The Court of Appeal (CoA) has cleared the way for a 17-year-old girl to be adopted by her foster mother. In what was described as an urgent and complex case, the court decided by a two-to-one majority to overturn an earlier High Court decision declining the adoption application.
The girl had expressed a desire to be adopted by the woman who has fostered and continuously cared for the teen since she was a few months old. The parties cannot be identified for legal reasons.
In a judgment delivered last June, High Court judge Mr Justice Max Barrett declined to approve the adoption application as he did not believe it would be in the girl’s best interests. He said he did not see any advantage to cutting the birth mother and child legal link when the girl is on the cusp of adulthood.
Mr Justice Barrett said the girl’s birth mother, who opposed the adoption, had proven herself to be a “demonstrably competent” parent for her other children and was “literally begging” for a relationship with her daughter.
The judge also criticised Tusla, the Child and Family Agency (CFA), for having “completely failed” to support a relationship between the girl, who due to foetal alcohol syndrome has a learning disability, and her birth mother.
The refusal to allow the adoption was appealed to the CoA by the CFA, the foster mother, and was supported by the Adoption Authority of Ireland. The appeal was opposed by the birth mother.
The courts accepted during the hearings that the girl was loved deeply by both her birth and foster mothers.
Giving the majority decision on Wednesday, Ms Justice Márie Whelan agreed with the submissions made on behalf of the authority that the High Court judge had erred in his decision.
Ms Justice Whelan said that the appellants clearly established by convincing evidence that there is no reasonable prospect that either biological parent will be able to care for the girl in a manner that will not prejudicially affect their safety or welfare. She said that the “overwhelming thrust of evidence supported the making of the adoption order”.
The very significant duration of time that she has spent in the care of the proposed adopter was very relevant, the judge said.
It is inevitable that the making of the adoption order will result in the severance of the legal ties which the girl has with her birth family, but it would provide very substantial security, certainty, stability for a young person with ongoing needs, she said.
The court noted that the birth mother had been repeatedly beaten and raped by her former husband in the time in and around the time of the girl’s birth. The birth mother said she drank a lot of alcohol to deal with the abuse and did not realise she was pregnant with her daughter for four months.
The birth mother said social workers told her she was not in a position to care for the girl shortly after she was born, and she signed a voluntary care order. She said she has not drank since leaving rehab and doing various courses to deal with alcohol problems.