Adoption – Placement Within Birth Families Must Be Carefully Explored

Ordering adoption of children outside their birth families is very much a last resort and family judges are required to explore all other possibilities carefully. Curtis Booth looks at a recent case in which the Court of Appeal resoundingly made that point in granting a woman a fresh opportunity to prove her ability to care for her three-year-old grandson.

The boy’s two older siblings were taken into care after their parents were convicted of child cruelty, arising from their grossly inadequate home conditions. There were also concerns about domestic abuse in their relationship and their dishonesty with professionals. As a result, the boy was removed from his parents at birth and had spent the whole of his life in foster care.

His maternal grandmother had put herself forward as an alternative carer. However, following a hearing, a judge approved a local authority’s plan to place him for non-family adoption. He expressed concern that the grandmother would not be able to prioritise his needs over those of her daughter or to protect him from the harmful effects of his parents’ toxic relationship.
In upholding the grandmother’s appeal against that outcome, the Court noted the profound effects of non-family adoption on a child’s life. It emphasised that such severe interference with the human right to respect for family life must be both necessary and proportionate. Such orders must only be made following rigorous evaluation and comparison of all realistic possibilities for a child’s future.

The Court noted that there were a number of justified reasons for concern about the grandmother as a carer for the boy. However, in directing an urgent rehearing of her claim, it found that the judge failed to take into account certain evidence in her favour, including her strong commitment to her grandson. Overall, his evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of her case was incomplete.
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