(Court of Appeal, Moses, Black, Gloster LJJ, 21 November 2013)
The mother, who had a troubled childhood, gave birth to her now, 4-year-old son, when she was just 15. The mother and child initially lived with the maternal grandmother but the relationship was volatile. When the child sustained unexplained bruising on his face care proceedings were commenced and an interim care order was granted resulting in the mother and child being placed in a foster home. They later moved to a residential assessment centre where the mother was provided with support and supervision.
At the final hearing the judge found that although the mother had been provided with support and guidance, she still lacked basic parenting skills and that the child needed stability and permanence. It was not in his interests to postpone a decision for further assessment of the mother. Care and placement orders were granted. The mother had a final contact with the child and he was placed with prospective adopters who later applied for an adoption order.
The mother filed a notice opposing the application. The prospective adopters separated but initially indicated that they would still pursue a joint adoption application although they could not agree who the child would live with. The wife later withdrew her application and the child remained living with the husband who continued the application on his own.
In approaching the mother's application the judge used the correct two-stage test set out in s 47 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and he highlighted that the significant weight that usually attached to the child being settled with prospective adopters carried less weight in this case due to their separation.
The mother's application was refused. The judge recognised that the current adoptive placement might not succeed which would expose the child to an unsettling change but also that if the child were to return to the mother, it would only be on an experimental basis and the child would be exposed to the risk of harm from the inadequacies of the mother's care. The mother appealed.
The appeal was allowed. While the judge had approached the task correctly in assessing the mother's prospects of successfully opposing the application, he had failed to take appropriate account of the situation of the prospective adopters He should have identified the adopters separation was a significant feature in evaluating the mother's case. The mother was granted leave to oppose the adoption application.