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Hayley Trim's Analysis: Difficult decisions

Date:20 OCT 2011

Hayley Trim, Family Law PSLI wrote an article which appears in October's Family Law ([2011] Fam Law 1110) regarding a case where foster carers applied to adopt two children disrupting the introductions to adopters which had all but concluded. The children had been with the foster carers for almost all of their young lives, the local authority having been very slow in arranging for their placement for adoption (Coventry City Council v O (Adoption) [2011] EWCA Civ 729).

The Court of Appeal held that the judge should not have granted an injunction which halted the removal of the children from the foster carers to the adopters. However before the Court gave judgment the adopters withdrew their candidacy and an independent social worker reported that although the children had secure attachments to the foster parents there were concerns about the foster parents and the foster father in particular. Those concerns included a past conviction for violence, but more particularly his lack of any relationship with children from a previous relationship and his failure to have provided any financial support for them such that there were allegedly thousands of pounds of arrears owing. The financial situation of the foster parents was generally of concern.

In the circumstances the children stayed with the foster parents pending the determination of their application to adopt them. I wondered how it would turn out for these children. Would they be adopted by their current foster carers to whom they were attached but who may not be the best candidates to provide for their long-term welfare, or would other, more suitable adopters be sought, with the children remaining with the foster carers as part of their family in the meantime?

It fell to HHJ Bellamy in PGO and FEO v Coventry City Council (FLR forthcoming) to consider the adoption application. It cannot have been an easy task. Given the history of the unsuccessful adoption attempt and the long period of time the children had been with the foster carers, the temptation must have been to find that the children should be adopted by the foster parents which would give them certainty going forward. However, having balanced all the evidence, the judge concluded that the children's welfare would not be best served by adoption by the foster parents. The foster father's attitude to the children from his previous relationship and the couple's financial situation weighed particularly heavily with the judge. So another family needs to be found to adopt these children. Now that there is at least certainty that the children cannot stay with the foster parents, time must be of the essence to match them with suitable adoptive parents.

Much has been said recently about adoption rates. In my view statistics are just that. What matters surely is that in cases like this where young children are placed with short term foster carers with a view to being adopted by another family (and there is no real issue that adoption is in their best interests) that the adoption process is commenced and pursued quickly and properly. There are inevitably significant differences between what makes a suitable foster carer and a suitable adopter, but delay of the kind in this case blurs the lines and can lead to very difficult questions about what promotes the best interests of the child.

Hayley Trim is a Family Law PSL at Jordan Publishing and was formerly a family solicitor practising in London.

She works on the Family Law online major works providing updating notes on cases and other relevant developments as they happen for The Family Court Practice, Children Law and Practice and Matrimonial Property and Finance online.

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