Article 18 of the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987: freeing for adoption; protracted efforts to pursue rehabilitation; parental unreasonableness; and the welfare of the child.

Author:O'Halloran, Kerry
Position:Northern Ireland

Re B (a pseudonym) (application to free for adoption) The High Court Stephens J Delivered 19 January 2011


B, aged two, was placed with her dual approved foster carers and current prospective adopters in April 2010. B's 21year-old mother, M, had a full-scale IQ of 76 and mild learning disability. She had had a difficult upbringing, becoming pregnant at 14 as the result of rape and having her first child, C, in November 2003. B's father, F (also 21), had also had a difficult childhood that included being placed on the Child Protection Register. B has half-siblings with different fathers: C (aged 7) and R (aged 3), both freed for adoption and in the same placement. The placement of B with her half-siblings was considered but rejected on the grounds of a high risk that their placements would be compromised. B's maternal and paternal grandparents have a long history of involvement with social services.

B was initially placed with her mother in a mother and baby foster care arrangement before moving with her parents to a residential assessment. This disrupted after six weeks, at which point, in October 2009, she was placed in a short-term foster placement. As a result of her experiences prior to the care order, B was a watchful, clingy child who became distressed if her then foster carer was out of view. In April 2010, she was moved to her current placement where she settled, to become a vocal, active child who was progressing positively overall, though with continuing signs of wariness.

Contact if a freeing order is made

The Trust proposed, with the agreement of the present foster carers and the adopters of B's half-siblings, that if a freeing order was made there should be indirect and direct contact with B's parents and her half-siblings twice a year. In that event, Stephens J stated that he would be guided by the flexible approach of Gillen J: 'if I did make a freeing order then I consider that the no order principle should apply to the question of a contact order and I would decline to make a contact order'. (1)

Proceedings to date

In May 2009, an interim care order was granted on the basis of an interim care plan involving educative work for both parents together with supports and assessments to be undertaken at a family centre. This would take place in two phases, including an assessment of F in relation to anger management and a possible move to a residential assessment. However, in April 2010, a full care order was issued on the basis of a care plan that B would be freed for adoption, thus ruling out rehabilitation for either parent, whether individually or as a couple.

Educative programmes and assessments

In August 2006, an educative parenting programme carried out by the Trust concluded that whereas M could verbalise C's needs, she appeared to lack the necessary maturity to care for her. This was confirmed by a PACT (Parents and Children Together) assessment commenced in January 2007. In August 2007, M began a 12-week PACT residential assessment with R, which revealed that she was consistently unable to provide adequate care in relation to feeding, dressing, hygiene...

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