IN THE CENTRAL LONDON COUNTY COURT
13-14 Park Crescent, W1B 1HT
Wednesday, 16th April 2014
HIS HONOUR JUDGE JOHN MITCHELL
B E T W E E N :
LONDON BOROUGH OF HARINGEY Applicant
- and -
M & Anor Respondents
Transcribed by BEVERLEY F. NUNNERY & CO
Official Court Reporters and Audio Transcribers
One Quality Court, Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1HR
Tel: 020 7831 5627 Fax: 020 7831 7737
APPROVED J U D G M E N T
IMPORTANT NOTICE This judgment was delivered in private. The judge has given leave for this version of the judgment to be published on condition that (irrespective of what is contained in the judgment) in any published version of the judgment the anonymity of the child and members of his family must be strictly preserved. All persons, including representatives of the media, must ensure that this condition is strictly complied with. Failure to do so will be a contempt of court.
MR. R. CLOUGH (instructed by Legal Services Department) appeared on behalf of the Applicant.
MS. L. ARCHER (instructed by X Solicitors LLP) appeared on behalf of the Respondent mother.
MS. J. VADGAMA (Solicitor, Y Solicitors) appeared on behalf of the Respondent father.
MS. C. LITTLE (Solicitor, Z Solicitors) appeared on behalf of the Guardian.
JUDGE JOHN MITCHELL:
1 I have to make a very important decision about a baby boy called B. His mother (whom I shall call “M”) is 18 years old and his father (whom I shall call “F”) is 23 years old. They have another son, A, who was born in February 2013. In August 2013, I made an order placing A in the care of the local authority and gave permission for them to place him with someone who could adopt him. At that time M was pregnant with B. It had taken a whole year before the final decision could be taken about A. He remains with his foster carers because proposed adopters are still being identified and approved to be his adopters.
2 B was born in December 2013 and now is still only 16 weeks old. Since a few days after he was born B has been living with foster carers who are also A’s foster carers. M and F see B four times a week for two hours at a contact centre.
3 I have seven issues to decide:
1 Is the threshold test set by s.31 of the Children Act 1989 satisfied? I can only make a care order, I can only give permission for B to be placed for adoption, if I am satisfied that at the time the proceedings were started, and that was when he was only a few days old, he was suffering, or is likely to suffer, harm as a result of the care he was receiving, or was likely to receive, not being what it would be reasonable for his parents to give him. If I decide that that test is not satisfied, the proceedings end here. However, if they are satisfied I can consider what order I should make.
2 Should I adjourn the case so that B’s parents can be assessed for their suitability to go with B for a residential assessment lasting some months?
3 Should B live with his parents?
4 If not, should I place him in the care of the local authority?
5 I place B in the care of the local authority should I give them permission to place him for adoption? Their hope and intention is that he should be placed with his brother, A, with the same prospective adopter who has been found.
6 If I decide that it is in B’s interests to be placed for adoption, can and should I dispense with the consent of his parents to his being placed on the ground that his welfare requires it?
7 What order, if any, should I make for contact between B and his parents until he is placed for adoption? By law I cannot at this stage to make any order allowing them to have contact with him after an adoption order is made.
8 M is eighteen years old. She had a very difficult and troubled early life. Her own mother was very young and she had been known to this local authority when she was a child. After her birth M went straight from hospital to foster carers. She moved to live with her mother who were struggling with alcohol dependency and drug use. However, that was not a success and eventually she went to live with her father.
9 Later in her life, M was placed in the care of the London Borough of Haringey. She went to live with foster carers but that too did not succeed and she moved from her first carers to a number of other carers. It is not surprising that she faced a number of serious personal difficulties. Her life was very unhappy. By 2011 she was again living with her father but her chaotic lifestyle continued.
10 During the proceedings relating to A, a report was commissioned from a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, In her report the psychiatrist explained what are called ‘attachment behaviours’ which develop in infancy between a child and those who are caring for him or her.. Attachment strategies effect our future relationships. The psychiatrist thought that M had quite complex strategies. She consistently complained that the person she was in a relationship with was getting it wrong. At times she would be very aggressive, probably because of her fear of what might happen to her. She idealised her father and the psychiatrist thought it was likely that she had learnt to put his needs first. Her relationship with her mother was a very complex one. Sadly her mother died on the day A was born.
11 The Child and Adolescent psychiatrist thought there was the risk that M would start over-controlling and manipulating F. At the final hearing into A’s future , M said this to me:
“I have grown up in care and it has been very hard. I was placed with a family for seven years, the son abused me and I was deeply unhappy. I didn’t have anyone to talk to, I didn’t tell anyone how I felt. Instead, I kept everything bottled up inside me. I had to go through these experiences totally on my own and I felt abandoned and isolated. I was consequently placed in children’s homes. I was only allowed to see my parents nine times a year and I really missed them.
I lashed out at people who tried to help me because I felt they didn’t understand me or the hurt I was feeling. I ran away a few times because I felt I needed to escape an environment in which everyone was watching me. I find it very hard to be happy because of all of the experiences I have been through. One of the reasons I am finding these proceedings so hard is that I don’t want my son to be taken from his parents and to go through the care system like I did.”
12 Today, in relation to B, she has told me that B is a happy little boy and she wanted the chance to look after him. She said, “There are people out there who are alcoholics like my mother”. She wanted to be given a chance to bring him up, she said, “You must understand how hard it is to lose a child”.
13 F is older than M. Like M he desperately loves both his sons and wants to be able to bring them up himself. However, he, too, has difficulties not just because of his intellectual limitations but because of difficulties in his own childhood. Indeed, during part of the time when M was pregnant with A he was serving a sentence of imprisonment for robbery. He told me today about how he can look after his son and how he can meet all of his physical needs. He said: “I’d like to make him happy and laugh and I want to be able to care for him”. Ms. Vadgama, his counsel, told me that all he wants is to be given a chance to be a proper dad.
14 The relationship between the parents and their children is crucially important for the child throughout all of his or her life. The State can never, and should never, interfere with that relationship unless the welfare of the child requires it. The fact that someone else can do a better job is not enough. Separation is necessary only if that the parents cannot meet the child’s needs and the child’s welfare requires that they be separated. With adoption , separation is almost a complete one. This is why the State, through Parliament, has built a structure in which the Court has to approach these decisions. First, the Section 31 Children Act 1989 threshold has to be satisfied. Second, if the threshold is satisfied, when the Court considers what orders to make, it has to regard the child’s welfare as being paramount, that is, more important than any other factors including the wishes of the parents or whether or not it is best for the parents that a certain course is taken.
15 A similar test applies when the Court is considering making a placement order, but there the paramount consideration is the child’s welfare throughout his life and not just his childhood, because the impact of being adopted is likely, and is intended, to effect the child throughout his life. I also have to consider all of the relevant circumstances including the likely effect on B throughout his life of ceasing to be a member of M and F’s family and becoming an adopted person. The relationship he has with relatives and his only relationship at the moment is with his parents and his brother. The likelihood of such a relationship continuing, the value of the child of that relationship should continue. I also have to have regard to the wishes and feelings of the child’s relatives. His parents’ wishes are that he should go to live with them.
16 I can make a placement order, that is, an order allowing the local authority to place B for adoption, only if his parents consent or I decide that I can sdispense with their consent. They parents do not consent. I am satisfied that they do not consent because they genuinely believe it is best for B to live with them and I respect that. However, Parliament has provided me with the power to dispense with their consent if I am satisfied that B’s welfare requires it.
17 In the case of Re B-S (Children)  EWCA Civ.1146, the Court of Appeal gave guidance as to how these decisions should be approached. Making an adoption order without the parents’ consent is an extreme thing. It is a matter of last resort which should be made only where nothing else will do and where no other course is possible in the child’s interests. When I consider the options I have which are to adjourn the case to allow B to live with his parents, to make a care order with a view to his living with foster carers, or by being adopted, I have to adopt the least interventionist approach which meets the child’s needs.
18 There are three other matters I have to bear in mind. First, I must never lose sight of the fact that the child’s interests include being brought up by his natural family, ideally by his parents, unless his welfare over-ridingly requires something different. Second, I have to explore all alternative solutions before adopting the one proposed by the local authority. Third, I have to take into account the assistance and support which the local authority would offer the parents if B were to live with them.
19 I am satisfied that at the time the proceedings started, when B was only a few days old, it was likely that he would suffer significant emotional harm resulting from his parents:
(a) continuing their cannabis misuse;
(b) failing to recognise, and have insight into, the risks that their cannabis use would have on his welfare;
(c) failing to take advantage of the support which the local authority has made available for them both in terms of their drug use and in terms of their own personal needs;
(d) their being unwilling to work with professionals and their, at times, volatile and aggressive behaviour;
(e) the father’s learning difficulties;
(f) the reasons why A was taken from the mother and the father’s care in August 2013.
The reasons why I am satisfied that threshold is satisfied will, I hope, be obvious from the rest of this judgment.
THE WELFARE CHECKLIST
B’s wishes and feelings
20 I have to consider B’s wishes and feelings and give them appropriate weight having regard to their age and understanding. B is so young that he cannot possibly understand what is happening, or might happen to him, nor does he have the maturity to be able to form a judgment of what is best for him. With regard to his feelings, his foster carer has been his parent figure throughout his 16 weeks of life and his feelings would be that he would want to remain with her. However, as he grows older his feelings might be that he would want to be with his parents if at all possible, and if he could not do that then to be able to understand that they loved him but were unable to look after him.
21 Like every child B needs a stable, structured and loving environment where he can be stimulated. He needs to be safe. If a child leads a life which threatens him, where he is at risk of neglect because of difficulties facing the parents, for example drug use, where he faces uncertainty about what will happen from day to day, that is the sort of situation that can be solved in his not having what the doctor called a secure attachment. Looking at M’s history one can see the effect of not having a secure attachment can have on a child, not just in infancy, not just in childhood but also in adult life. B will also need to grow up understanding (if he is to be adopted) that he is adopted, and that he is not the natural child of his adopter. He will also need information about his parents so that he can develop a sense of his own identity.
M’s and F’s ability to meet B’s Needs
22 In August 2013 I decided that A’s parents were unable to look after him. I made that decision having read the very full report which had been prepared by a team of independent child care specialists who had assessed whether or not they could look after A. The assessment lasted a number of weeks. Their report was very detailed and ran to more than 40 pages. It said some very positive things about the parents. They engaged in playful interactions with A and were able to soothe his distress and anxiety. They generally presented themselves as motived to learn and expressed an interest in what Awas being taught. However, M displayed some considerable difficulties about her ability to manage her anxieties and to contain her emotions. Frequently she acted in a volatile, hostile and openly abusive way towards staff. This affected her motivation to succeed and to accept the help that the staff offered her. It was the team’s view that she did not have the emotional or behavioural resources with which to undertake a twelve week residential assessment, and one could reasonably predict that such a placement would be at a high risk of break down. For that reason they could not recommend that a full assessment was carried out.
23 In those proceedings A had a guardian from February 2013. That guardian is B’s Guardian as well, so she has known the family for 14 months. In her report for the August proceedings she wrote:
“I do not consider that A can be cared for by his parents and that any further assessment of them is unlikely to be successful. He is a very loved child. His parents have bonded well with him and there are some positive observations of their parenting. They have attended almost all of the contact sessions and have, to the best of their ability, cooperated with professionals, but the weight of professional opinion and my observations indicate that they would not be able to care safely for A, would not be able to prioritise his needs and would not be able to offer care that was calm, stable and consistent.
M has really struggled with managing change and engaging with social services and it appears that any change, if achievable, will take a very long time. She has serious and long-standing emotional psychological difficulties and has found it extremely difficult to accept help for herself or to engage with services for A. A is a very loved child but he is also a young and vulnerable child who needs the security of a family placement as soon as possible. All involved are extremely sympathetic to M and F but the focus must be on A and his needs for a long-term placement.”
24 The question I have to answer is whether any change has happened which makes it more likely that the parents would be able to look after B than they would have been able to look after A. They are still living together and, as the Guardian has commented, their strength is that they are mutually committed to each other. The love that was seen by everybody that they had for A is just as apparent for B. They are undoubtedly committed to him. I have a report from a midwife at the hospital where B was born which says:
“Staff have seen [M] talk to B and cuddle him. I have also observed this and seen very tender interactions such as giving him Eskimo kisses. M is responsive to his needs and will break away from conversations with him if he moves to cry. I am satisfied she has bonded very well with B. Overall she has behaved appropriately on the ward. There was concern about her being verbally aggressive to staff but she had demonstrated an ability to prioritise her baby’s needs, had dramatically decreased her smoking and rarely left the ward to smoke. F appears to be caring and supportive and has been able to undertake tasks such as washing and shopping. They have no concerns about his behaviour. I also note that M breastfeeds B.”
25 The Guardian wrote:
“B knows his parents and has supervised contact with them four times a week. The contact goes well and the reports are positive. His parents clearly love him very much and want to care for him, but in my opinion they are unable to meet his long-term needs.”
There is no doubt that they could meet his basic needs of washing and feeding him. Contact has gone well,
26 The Child and Adolescent psychiatrist who interviewed M after A was born has seen her again, this time with B. When she saw her with B, she was impressed by the way M kept looking at him. She wrote:
“He was sticking out his tongue so she copied him. He made little cooing noises and she copied those as well. She talked to him about getting his bottle cooled and whilst she was talking to him she would kiss his head but not in an intrusive way, and he appeared quite relaxed.”
The psychiatrist thought, as did the Guardian, that M was much more relaxed with B than she was with A. That is noteworthy because she has been fearing that B would be taken from her.
27 Those are all very positive matters and indicate some change. In addition M has been less aggressive since B was born. However, there are difficulties. The first is that since A was born the local authority has offered M and F a great deal of personal support. They have a personal adviser and they have made use of her. They have offered M a mental health screening but she attended only one in four sessions. She attended some obstetric appointments and scans but failed to attend for two scans. She attended an eight week psychotherapy group but when she was then offered counselling sessions she failed to attend them. She was offered advice from another organisation but when she failed to keep most of those appointments they closed the file in mid-March. She has been offered therapy at a further organisation but she did not attend many sessions. She is starting a course with another organisation in the next few weeks. She had not engaged with any organisation in order to receive help her with drug and alcohol misuse however but to some extent she had lessened her use of cannabis during her pregnancy. This shows that the parents are still finding it very difficult to accept the help they need for a large number of areas in their lives.
28 The local authority would continue to offer support if M and F looked after B but that support would be there to assist them, not to replace them as parents. The parents still continue to use cannabis regularly and frequently. In December, that is, during the last month of her pregnancy, M told someone that she was still using cannabis several times a day. What has happened outside contact shows the sort of difficulties they are still encountering. At some stage this year the parents had made contact with someone whom it seems used them for sexual purposes. There are details in the psychiatrist’s report and I am not going to repeat them. but they show they were either gullible or reckless. It was the sort of incident which would be completely inconsistent with their looking after a baby. It would also put the baby at risk of harm himself.
29 In March there were difficulties with their landlord. When the guardian and the social worker visited M and F by appointment they had found their flat to be tidy. However, when the landlord visited not by appointment it showed there were two dogs in the premises, the parents had one dog themselves but were looking after another dog for a friend. There was urine and faeces on the floor, empty alcohol bottles, the bed was not made and the place was generally untidy. There were also difficulties with neighbours and I am told that the landlords are seeking to have them evicted.
30 Faced with this contrast between their improvements with B and their difficulties outside contact, the professionals have had a difficult task in making recommendations about B’s future. The social worker says that she believes the parents have made positive changes. There was a time immediately after B’s birth when she hoped this change could be harnessed and developed. She hoped the change could be built on. She points to the fact that contact has been positive but that is not a true reflection of reality. They present a somewhat chaotic lifestyle outside contact which suggests that their lives are not stable or consistent with the needs of a young child. If B were to be looked after by them even with a high level of support they would be unable to keep him safe.
31 In relation to the cannabis use, the social worker says during the time immediately after B’s birth M was not smoking cannabis and her behaviour was much calmer. However, she said:
“M is using cannabis again and I fear she is not showing an ability to significantly reduce her use over a sustained period. I fear that the parents’ cannabis use will mean that they will be emotionally unavailable and this will affect their ability to give good enough care to B.”
What she means by that is that the parents are affected by cannabis. They cannot react to a young child who needs clues of what they want being picked up by a parent, and the parent then being able to deal with the matter properly.
32 The Child and Adolescent psychiatrist also considered the change. She wrote at para.2.6 of her report :
“What is different is the quality of M’s relationship with B. My observation of her contact reflects what has been described by other professionals. It is markedly different to my observation of her interaction with A. In many ways it was probably helpful just to see her by herself with B. She shows very good intuitive care. She is attuned to his needs, she uses her voice and eye contact to manage his arousal. Throughout the contact she followed his cues and worked very hard to make him comfortable. I think she has bonded with him and he is developing positive attachment responses to her. It is likely the period of time in hospital following his birth contributed significantly to her being able to learn how to read him and to start enjoying her role as a mother. However, sadly outside that interaction, not enough change has happened.
The most recent information in relation to the sexual exploitation of the couple and a lack of capacity to manage their home, as well as their ongoing drug and alcohol use, makes me very concerned about their capacity to manage B safely in the community. The big issue for me is that they do not appear to be able to think about what they need to do together to reassure professionals and facilitate B’s return to their care. Instead, they seem to have come up with their own plan which cannot be challenged. Sadly, the photographs I saw would indicate that the dogs were being neglected and were living in poor conditions themselves in the flat. I wonder if on some level it was easy to choose that way of showing they are good parents rather than doing the things that need to be done to stop their cannabis and alcohol misuse and to engage in therapy.”
The doctor then went on to discuss how the use of cannabis made them more vulnerable.
33 The Child and Adolescent psychiatrist had been wondering whether or not to recommend that they should be given a chance to undergo a residential assessment with B. However, the information about allowing a stranger into the flat, the general state of the flat and the care of the dogs led the psychiatrist to change the recommendation:
“I was of the opinion, given how good she was with B that residential placement should be considered. I am now however of the opinion that they remain struggling to a significant level, and the time given trying to engage them in a process of change has not moved them forward sufficiently. They are a long way from meaningful engagement with services such that I do not think the delay which would be required to set up another residential placement would be helpful for B in terms of his long-term care.”
Faced with this evidence, and the expert opinion, I am satisfied that at the moment M and F are unable to meet B’s needs.
The Local Authority’s Ability to Meet B’s Needs
34 A prospective adopter for B has been found and B will being going to live with that prospective adopter in the next two weeks or so. The prospective adopter is a single person who has expressed a willingness to look after both boys and to adopt them. Although the local authority have not yet completed the formalities of selecting her as a suitable carer for B, they can see no reason in the assessment that has been carried out of her why she would not be able to look after both children, albeit that she is a single parent and would be having to look after two very young children.If a placement order is made they think it is likely that B would go to live with his brother and that prospective adopter in the next two months.
35 I am satisfied that the local authority can, and will, put those plans into effect. I recognise that adoption does not guarantee success. A and B are two very young children and she is a single adopter. However, she has been assessed, she does not suffer from the same disadvantages as the parents and she is likely to meet most, if not all, of B’s needs.
Risks and Benefits for B
36 If B lives with his parents he would undoubtedly have the benefit of their love, and I have already dealt with how positive contact is, and that his parents have a mutually supportive and affectionate relationship.
37 However, there are a long list of risks. M is not equipped at the moment to look after herself and B in the community. F has a background of chronic neglect and poor parenting in his childhood which is compounded by his learning difficulties and his cannabis use. He is not going to be able to step forward to fill the gaps in M’s care, nor can she fill in the gaps in his care. M herself has raised a concern about F’s current mental state which is referred to in para.2.19 of the psychiatrist’s report.
38 As the social worker has said, the parents’ continued cannabis use, despite advice to the contrary and despite twelve months of offers of help, risks them being emotionally unavailable to B. The state of their home at times shows that B would be unsafe. There is the risk that he would be exposed to unpredictable anger on the part of his mother. He cannot be guaranteed a consistently clean and hygienic home environment. There must be a serious question mark about their ability to protect him from being sexually abused by other people. It also cannot be guaranteed that the parents will cooperate with professionals. Face to face, M’s cooperation has improved. There is no longer the sort of aggression that was being shown previously: that is a real step forward. However, on the other hand is the question of their accepting help and there is not a good history in the last twelve months of consistent acceptance of help to change their circumstances.
39 If B does not live with his parents there would be the certainty of a loss of a relationship with them. Information about them can be provided by social services but that is by far from being a substitute for a proper relationship with his birth parents. There is a risk that the adoptive placement could break down but, in my judgment, that risk is far less than the placement breaking down if he is with his parents.
40 Adoption would bring the benefit to B of most of his needs being met, the needs not being met would be the benefits that most children obtain from living with their birth parents. He would also have the benefit of probably living with his brother and, as the guardian said, that would provide him with lifelong emotional support.
Can Anyone Else Meet B’s Needs?
41 No member of B’s family other than M and F who is able to offer him a permanent home has come forward.
Comparison Between Adoption and Being In Care
42 B’s guardian has considered this in detail.
“A long-term foster placement would provide [B] with a safe and secure living environment where his parents would continue to share parental responsibility, but this could not be considered permanent and he would have the stigma and intrusion of continued local authority involvement, for example, looked after review meetings, changes of social worker and others knowing a great deal of personal information about his background. This would not be a normal childhood and there would also be a sense of difference in his ability. He could not remain in his current foster home and he will be separated from his brother. Such an arrangement will not afford him the security of a permanent family for his childhood and beyond.”
43 I do not have to repeat M’s unhappy history to show how difficult it can be for a child spending their childhood in foster care. When I gave judgment in the case of A, I said:
“M has her own experiences of a child in foster care. She has had the experiences of not being able to settle, of families not taking responsibility for her and that made her very unhappy indeed. It made it very difficult for her now she is 18 to look after herself. I do not want A to have the same experience. No matter how kind a foster carer is to him, if he remains in care there is a real risk that the time would come when the foster carer could not look after him, or the social workers decide that he should move, and that would put him at the risk of the same sort of life as M had. Statistics show that the chance of adoption being successful is much greater for a child than being in care. It gives the child a family who are committed to him, who love him not just for the next few weeks and the next few months, but until he is 18 or the rest of his life.”
44 The guardian in her report makes the same comments:
“The brothers remaining together would have enormous benefits for both of them. There is no doubt that adoption would represent a loss for B particularly in later life, and he would have been deprived of the opportunity of being brought up by his birth parents. This has to be weighed against the delay, risk and difficulties of a further assessment that a plan for reunification would bring.”
The Recommendations of the Experts
45 I emphasise that this is not a case where I have to do what the experts recommend. I have to make my own decision and the order is my responsibility, not theirs.
46 B’s social worker says:
“M and F have been consistent in their wish to look after B together and it is clear they love him very much, but the local authority believes they are unable to understand and implement the necessary changes within his timescales. It is the local authority’s view that the parents are therefore unable to provide consistently safe and emotionally sensitive care to a good enough standard.”
47 The psychiatrist says:
“In my opinion the current prognosis is poor. I would be concerned that there is evidence that M and F are still very vulnerable young adults and any children placed in their care would be at risk. They have a very limited insight and capacity to protect themselves. As a result I think that B is not going to manage in their care.”
48 The guardian says in her report:
“I do not consider that M and F can safely parent B and permanent, alternative arrangements are required. The positives are their obvious love for him, their commitment to attending contact, and the positive contact reports. Both have a level of practical competence and manage well within the restrictions of the two hour contact sessions that take place four times a week. They have been less actively hostile to professionals and M in particular has spoken about the care plan for A with a maturity that I would not have envisaged twelve months ago. The concerns I have relate to continued lack of acceptance of any help, any therapeutic help or acknowledgement of the adverse impact of substantial cannabis use. There is little acknowledgement or insight into the complexity and extent of their difficulties as identified by all of the assessments thus far and the demonstrable and continued difficulties in looking after and protecting themselves.”
Should the Hearing be Adjourned?
49 I have considered adjourning the hearing to enable a residential assessment to be taken place. It is necessary that I do so because everything that can be done to see whether B can live with his parents should be done provided he is not going to suffer harm because of it. The psychiatrist said that the parents were struggling to a significant level and the time given trying to engage them in a process of change has not moved them forward sufficiently. “I do not think the delay that would be required to set up another residential placement would be helpful for B in terms of his long-term care.”
50 The guardian in her report noted that a residential assessment for A had not beenpossible:
“I do not think that there has been sufficient changes to suggest that any further residential assessment would reach different conclusions. Information provided by such an assessment would be limited, it would show how the parents manage within that particular supervised environment and there is clear evidence they have struggled to manage in the community despite having a high level of support. I note that the placement proposed would be unlikely to accept the parents prior to a demonstrable period of abstinence from cannabis use.”
51 I have to remember that s.1(2) of the Children Act 1989 states the general principal that any delay is likely to prejudice the welfare of a child. B is three months old which is a very sensitive period in his neurological development. He requires as much stability as possible and any move from his current home must so far as possible be the final move.
52 M and F are still using cannabis. The likelihood that they will change is not something that can be assessed over a short period of six weeks for the viability assessment. Their personality problems, particularly M’s, will need time measured in many months if not years to resolve or lessen. M’s needs to be helped by therapy which will be painful. Anyone who has undergone therapy knows how easy it is to give up but the time required by the therapy to bring about change will also be measured in many months if not years. I am not satisfied that at the end of a six week viability assessment the prospects that the parents would be able to successfully complete a full assessment would be high enough to justify the adverse effect on B of a delay taking place. The older he is the more difficult it will be to move him.
Should B live with his parents?
53 Is it in B’s interests to live with his parents? They cannot currently meet all of his needs and, in my judgment, they will be unable to do so for some years. If he did live with them it is highly likely that he would have to return to care. He would then be older, he will be badly effected by his experiences at home, there will be further delay in finding him a permanent home and there is a risk that he would not be able to live with his brother. With great sadness, because I recognise how much the parents love him, I am satisfied that he cannot return to his parents. It is not in his wider interests.
Should B live with foster carers?
54 For the reasons the guardian has given, it is not in the interest of a child of B’s age to be placed in long-term foster care. In addition B would also lose his relationship with his brother.
Should B be adopted?
55 Adoption is the harshest and far reaching of all of the options. I can, and should, only make the order if I am satisfied that B’s welfare demands it. I am satisfied that it does. He cannot wait in the slight hope that something is going to change which will make his parents become able to look after him. Adoption offers by far the greatest chance of growing up in a stable home which can meet most of his needs. I am satisfied it is necessary in his interests.
56 The local authority proposes that contact between B and his parents should be reduced until he is placed for adoption and then direct contact should cease. They would arrange for communication by letters between his adopter, and as he grows older between B, and his parents twice a year. M and F will need help with that.
57 Letters are not a very satisfactory way of communicating information about one’s parents and it would be much better if this could happen face to face. I have to consider whether or not it would be in his interests to have contact with his parents after adoption. At the moment M and F have not met the prospective adopter. She is willing to meet them and they are willing to meet her. The local authority wants to arrange a meeting.
58 I have to bear in mind that the Court of Appeal has decided that courts should rarely, if ever, make a contact order after adoption unless the adopter agrees. At the moment the adopter does not agree- although neither does she disagree. Currently she does not know all of the circumstances.
59 I also have to bear in mind the emotional situation. First, the emotional situation of B. He does not know who his parents are. Although there will come a time when he may intellectually know that they are his birth parents, that will be some years in the future. After he moves to live with the prospective adopter, he will feel that she is his emotional parent. In those circumstances, meeting people who are emotionally involved and emotionally aroused and saying they are his parents would risk him being really confused.
The second matter I have to bear in mind is the parents’ emotional situation. I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like for a parent to see their child who has been adopted. There must be a real mixture of emotions and it would require a great deal of strength and courage and ability to control their emotions and behaviour to avoid upsetting the child. Third, there is the situation of the adopter. In adoption that child becomes the adopter’s, not in a legal sense of ownership but in the emotional sense of being 100% committed to the child. Naturally, adopters will feel that there is a risk that somehow either the child will be upset by the contact or that they will lose their child’s love.
60 These are very difficult and sensitive situations. Even if I could legally make an order for contact beyond adoption, I would not make it now because I do not know how all these factors will come into play in the circumstances of this particular case.
61 The local authority has a duty to consider contact between now and the adoption . They have a duty to discuss post- adoption contact with the adopter. They have told me they are going to discuss it with the adopter and the parents, and I accept that. I cannot at present be satisfied that such an order would be in B’s best interests. It may be beneficial in the future but I do not know.
Dispensing with M’s and F’s consent to a Placement Order
62 Before I make a placement order I need the consent of M and F . Because they do not consent, I have to be satisfied before dispensing with their consent that a placement order is necessary and in B’s best interest. As I have already said, in my judgment adoption is the only order which will meet B’s needs as far as they can be met. I am satisfied that it is necessary and in his best interests and therefore I am able to dispense with their consent and do so.
63 I grant the Placement order knowing that the local authority have found a home where it is probable he will be able to live with his brother. I regard as being very important.
64 I have reached my decision with great sadness because, like the guardian, the social worker and the psychiatrist, I had hoped that there might have been a change. M and F have not failed their son. No one could really expect them to mature and to change within such a short period of time. I hope for their own sakes that despite the great sadness and anger they will feel at the second child being removed from them, they will be able to look to the future and to accept the help which is genuinely being offered to them.