High Court considers “nightmare” adoption case

A toddler placed with prospective adopters should be returned to her biological parents, a High Court Judge has ruled.

This emotional case concerned ‘A’, who turned one in July. Sitting in the Family Court at Cardiff, Mr Justice Francis described the dispute over her future as one involving “two decent couples” who “have found themselves pitted against each other in litigation which none of them could have wished for in their worst nightmares.”

“…the human misery in this court is palpable,” he noted.

Before A’s birth her parents had decided to give her up for adoption. They had been experiencing relationship difficulties which led to them separating for a time. They already had four children and felt they would be unable to properly care for a fifth child. In his ruling the Judge explained:

When the mother informed the local authority social worker of her decision to relinquish her unborn child, it was immediately accepted by that social worker as being for the best, and the local authority put in place proposed adopters from birth.  In my judgment, they had a duty to discuss this with the mother, in fact with both parents, in detail, before accepting the position rather than actively encouraging them to go through with the adoption.”

Just hours after her birth, A was given to the “applicant carers”. This couple were unable to conceive children and keen to adopt. But the birth mother was seen to be upset in the hospital and struggled to say goodbye to the baby when the time came to leave her.

Further signs of trouble followed, the Judge recounted:

A note, two days later, records that the social worker expressed concern about the mother’s mental health.  Only a week later, on 11 July, the mother requested another contact with A as she did not feel saying goodbye was enough for her to have closure.  The birth parents, it is recorded, both requested to meet the carers for reassurance that A was well-cared for.  The mother asked if she could have A’s umbilical cord when it falls [sic] off.

A couple of months after the birth, the birth parents met the baby’s legal guardian to sign consent forms for the adoption. But the guardian quickly realised the mother was reluctant and so advised her not to sign and instead to seek legal advice. In a subsequent email, the guardian wrote that it was “clear that the parents want A to be returned to their care. They feel circumstances have changed since relinquishing.”

The resulting litigation finally came to an end when the Judge ruled against the prospective adopter’s wish to make a formal application for adoption, saying it was “bound to fail”.

Instead, A should be taken from their home and settled back with her birth parents.

He was critical of the Welsh local authority’s “failings”, noting in particular that social workers had not counselled the birth mother or made any efforts to help A stay with her family.

Legislation made counselling before the birth of children set for immediate adoption mandatory, the Judge continued, and consideration always needed to be given to “whether the mother could care for the child with support or whether there were members of the family who could care for her”.

Following the birth, social workers should make sure the mother still wished to proceed with the adoption.

Mr Justice Francis concluded his ruling by explaining that:

With exceptional kindness, love and understanding, the carers have offered, even in the face of the prospect of losing their application, to do all that they can to help to integrate A into her birth family should they lose this application, as it is evident to them that they now have.  Should they change their mind in relation to this, nobody, least of all me, would criticise them.  If, however, after a period of contemplation following this judgment, they feel able to continue in this offer, then I know that the birth parents and this court would be grateful to them.”

He continued:

“It may even be, and I express this very sincere hope, that they can play a part in A’s life as she grows from the toddler that she now is into the girl, and the woman, that she will become.  That is, of course, not a matter for this court but a matter for the four individuals who have patiently listened to this case for some three days.”

The Judge concluded:

“ In my experience as a judge in the Family Division I have rarely, if ever, seen such decent accommodation by individuals, of the horrible circumstances in which they all find themselves, and I end where I started by thanking all four of them, and express the hope that the goodwill seen by me in this court will continue, not just in the days and weeks to come, but in the years and decades to come.”

Read the full ruling here.

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