(Court of Appeal; Sir Mark Potter P and Wall LJ; 15 March 2007)
In the course of a hearing concerning two children, the mother's foster sister put herself forward as a potential carer. Both the guardian and the local authority opposed an adjournment for assessment of the foster sister, as they considered her unsuitable, and the judge declined to adjourn, making care orders and placement orders. The mother appealed against the orders placing the children for adoption, relying upon Re M-H  EWCA Civ 1864 in arguing that an assessment of the foster sister ought to have been made available for consideration by the court. The authority did not claim that the foster-sister was not a family member because not a blood relative.
Without resiling from anything said in Re M-H  EWCA Civ 1864, there was inevitably a difficulty in extracting statements of principle from an individual case and applying them to a quite different case with different facts. In this case, the local authority had made mistakes, notably the failure to convene a family group conference before the hearing, but those mistakes did not justify reopening the case. The judge had been faced with a last-minute application for an assessment that could and should have been made earlier. Both the local authority and the guardian reasonably took the view that they had sufficient information to make it inappropriate for the case to be adjourned to enable the further assessment to take place. The judge had seen and heard the foster sister, and was entitled to weigh the advantage to the children of being brought up within their natural family against the permanence and security brought about by adoption, taking into account the delay which would be occasioned by adjournment and the likelihood that the assessment of the foster sister would be negative. The available options for a child should be teased out as early as possible, and if a family member wished to be considered he or she should come forward at the earliest possible opportunity. It was the responsibility of the local authority to ensure that its case was properly presented to court, including ensuring that court had the necessary material.