An important and insightful judgment recently handed down by Mr Justice Cobb, highlighting the paramountcy of the child’s welfare against the need to notify and assess extended family members as alternative carers.
This case concerned a set of twins – M and N – who, upon birth, were relinquished to the care of the Local Authority (LA) by their mother, who felt that she unable to care for them. Interestingly, the mother was clear in her support for M and N to be adopted pre-birth.. Whilst the mother initially engaged with the local authority, a signed consent to the adoption was not obtained – this would have allowed the local authority to place the children with prospective adopters without the need for proceedings.
Whilst the mother’s position remained unchanged post-birth, unsuccessful attempts were made by the local authority to contact the mother. It was therefore necessary for the local authority to issue care proceedings, which appointed a guardian for the twins who also sought to contact the mother. It is importance to note that the mother consented to the children being placed in foster care on birth and that during the course of proceedings M and N had been placed in an Early Permanence Foster Placement.
In delivering his judgment Cobb J highlighted the importance of issuing proceedings promptly even where adoption is supported by the birth parents. The absence of written consent (para 12) should not be a reason to delay the issuing of proceedings. Whilst the father did not have parental responsibility at the time proceedings were issued he too considered adoption to be the best outcome for M and N.
Numerous Orders were granted in this case but the most compelling of all was the declaration made under Part 19 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 – that “it[the LA] need not notify, let along investigate or assess, any extended family member of the mother or father as potential carers for the children” (para 3.ii). In this case, the paternal grandparents were deceased and there were no other extended family members known to the Court or the local authority on the father’s s side. On the maternal side, the grandparents, although elderly and unlikely to care for M and N long-term, were alive and Mother had a sister who herself had children which she cared for. The Mother had made a clear indication to the local authority that she did not want the children to be placed with her family.
In considering Re JL & AO (Babies Relinquished for Adoption)  EWHC 440 (Fam) and emphasising the significant weight that is to be attached to parents’ wishes Cobb J concluded that the children’s welfare would be best secured in a stable and loving placement and that on the “unpromising” information available in respect of the maternal family and consideration of the mother’s Article 8 rights (the right to a private and family life), the local authority need not notify or assess the maternal family (para 25). On granting this application Care and Placement Orders were made.
A full link to the judgment can be found below:
By Jessica Johnston (Solicitor)
and Tom Trim (Trainee Solicitor)