Separating children from their natural parents is a draconian step and should never be countenanced by judges without careful scrutiny and due process. In a recent case reviewed by Michelle Whitaker, The Court of Appeal powerfully made that point in granting a teenage mother a fresh chance to prevent her little boy’s adoption.
The 16-year-old mother had borderline learning difficulties and came from a troubled family which had long been known to social services. Even before her baby was born a child protection plan was put in place, and care proceedings were launched immediately after his delivery.
Steps were taken to assist the mother in developing her parenting skills, but the local authority eventually took the view that it would be in the boy’s best interests to place him for adoption. Following what had been listed as a preliminary case management hearing, a family judge made a placement order on the basis that the mother was incapable of safely caring for her child. She was recorded as having neither consented to nor opposed the making of that order.
In upholding the mother’s challenge to that decision, the Court noted that the hearing before the judge had lasted less than an hour, including an adjournment. The judge had come into court with a very clear view of the merits of the case and was not prepared to grant the mother further time to prove her parenting ability. She made crystal clear her opinion that the mother had no chance of keeping her child.
Given the undue pressure that the judge’s comments placed on the vulnerable mother, it was not surprising that she had changed her position and withdrawn her active opposition to the adoption order. The Court found that the judge had crossed the line between robust handling of the case and unfairness. In making an adoption order without a full hearing, and in failing to give comprehensive reasons for her decision, she had denied the mother due process.
In ordering a fresh hearing of the matter before a different family judge, the Court noted that the boy, aged 13 months, had spent almost half his life living with adopters, with whom he was well settled. In the circumstances, the mother was warned that she still faced formidable difficulties in recovering the care of her son.
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