Court orders adoption of 17-year-old girl with special needs
Birth mother accepts she cannot meet child’s needs but argues adoption should be refused
The child is a few months from her 18th birthday but still requires 24-hour care, the High Court heard.
The High Court has ordered the adoption of a 17-year-old girl who was not toilet trained or able to speak properly before she was long-term fostered at the age of 10 and began to thrive under her foster carers.
The child has a moderate learning disability and has had diagnoses including epilepsy, intellectual disability and psychosis. She attends a special needs school for children with moderate general learning disorders.
Her birth mother had opposed the adoption. The birth father consented to it.
The child is a few months from her 18th birthday but still requires 24-hour care. Her foster carers are prepared to adopt her and continue to care for her throughout her life.
The birth mother accepted that, due to her own difficulties, she was unable to meet the very complex needs of the child but argued adoption should be refused because there were more proportionate means to provide for the best interests of the child.
She said these included guardianship and wardship which would mean the child could have an ongoing secure relationship with the birth mother and her three siblings.
The Child and Family Agency (CFA), which applied for an adoption order in favour of the foster parents and an order dispensing with the need for consent of the birth mother, said the child had progressed since being placed with the foster parents in 2010.
The foster parents had demonstrated a full commitment to her and supported the CFA adoption application.
She was put into short-term care at the age of seven following concerns surrounding the limited parenting capacity of the birth mother to meet not just the child’s needs, but those of her siblings.
There were reports to social workers of neglect and physical abuse.
The child first came to the attention of social workers at the age of two when, despite extensive efforts by social services to assist the birth parents to provide a safe environment, difficulties continued over the years. There were particular concerns around child sexual abuse allegations against a family friend who had convictions for sexual offences against children.
In her decision on the adoption application, published this week, Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds said the law was clear that the best interests of the child must be the paramount consideration.
An educational psychologist who carried out an assessment of the child found that while she was not capable of understanding the concept of adoption, there was a strong attachment to her foster parents and she was psychologically closer to them than her birth parents.
The judge said the foster parents had indicated access by the birth mother would continue to be facilitated as it had in the past and supported maintaining links with the mother and the siblings.
The judge was satisfied the birth mother failed in her parental duty for the accepted reason that due to her own difficulties she did not have capacity.
It was clear from the evidence that the child had been in a secure and loving home with the foster parents for over seven years and they were committed to providing a safe and secure environment now and into the future, she said.
“The court is satisfied that the birth mother’s misgivings in relation to the adoption order are misplaced when weighed against what is undoubtedly in the best interests of this child,” the judge said.