A seven-judge Supreme Court will assemble next month to hear a birth mother’s appeal against an order permitting the adoption of her daughter.
The court considers that the appeal raises matters of “profound public importance” regarding the making of court orders authorising the adoption of children whose parents fail in their duty towards them in light of the constitutional provision for State intervention in family life.
Last August the Court of Appeal (COA) cleared the way for the girl, who has since turned 18, to be adopted by her foster mother.
The girl, identified as Ms B, expressed a desire to be adopted by the woman who has fostered and continuously cared for her since she was a few months old. She has had some but not always regular contact with her birth mother.
The COA’s orders, including dispensing with the requirement for Ms B’s parents’s consent to her adoption, overturned a June 2022 decision of the High Court’s Mr Justice Max Barrett, who did not believe the adoption was in the teen’s best interests.
He noted Ms B had developmental delay associated with foetal alcohol syndrome and a moderate learning disability.
The judge was highly critical of the Child and Family Agency (CFA) for having “completely failed” to support a relationship between Ms B and her birth mother.
The CFA, supported by the foster mother and the Adoption Authority of Ireland, appealed the adoption refusal.
Both courts accepted that Ms B was loved deeply by her birth and foster mothers.
The COA, by a 2:1 majority, held that the appellants clearly established that there is no reasonable prospect that either biological parent will be able to care for Ms B in a way that will not prejudicially affect their safety or welfare.
It was inevitable that the adoption order would result in the severance of the legal ties between Ms B and her birth family but, on balance, it will provide very substantial security, certainty and stability for a young person with moderate disabilities, the court said.
The court found the High Court had afforded excessive weight to the birth mother’s complaints that the CFA had failed to provide reasonable access support.
The court required an undertaking from the foster mother that to the best of her ability, having regard to Ms B’s wishes, she would facilitate and assist contact between Ms B and her birth mother.
In a recently published determination, a Supreme Court panel said the appeal raised matters of “profound public importance” concerning the operation and interpretation of section 54 of the Adoption Act 2010, which concerns court adoption orders for children whose parents fail in their parental duties.
The court will consider this in light of an article of the Constitution that sets out how and when the State can step in to protect children.
The Adoption Authority of Ireland and the CFA opposed the birth mother’s application for an appeal to the Supreme Court.
In its ruling last year, the COA noted the birth mother was repeatedly beaten and raped by her former husband around the time of Ms B’s birth. She said she drank a lot of alcohol to deal with the abuse and did not realise she was pregnant for four months.
The birth mother said social workers told her shortly after Ms B was born that she was not in a position to care for her. She signed a voluntary care order and has not drunk since leaving rehab, she said.
The Supreme Court appeal is due to be heard on April 18th.