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Appeal judge's 'profound concern' at adoption fiasco

Case to be referred to Civil Justice Council

4 July 2011

An appeal judge has expressed his “profound concern” after two toddlers were removed from their would-be adoptive parents in what he described as “dreadful” circumstances.

Lord Justice Wilson said the night before the children were returned to their foster parents, a social worker reported that one was half asleep on her adoptive mother’s lap and the other running around playing with his adoptive father.

Wilson LJ said the “sudden and in the event permanent halting of the ultimate movement of the children into the adopter’s home the following day must have been damaging”.

The lord justice said he wanted to record his “deep sympathy” for the adopters in relation to the “emotional shock” which this caused them.

“The continuing stress ultimately – and understandably – proved intolerable for them, with the result that they withdrew their candidacy.

“I earnestly hope that they proceed to a successful adoption of other children and that this case will not have a chilling effect on the confidence with which prospective adopters in general put themselves forward in relation to children who are in foster care and subject to placement orders.”

Delivering judgment in Coventry City Council v PGO and FEO [2011] EWCA Civ 729, Lord Justice Wilson said foster parents and adopters had “entirely different” roles.

“It may be far from helpful to foster parents to dangle before all of them – on a routine basis – the possibility, whether realistic or more probably otherwise, that they might be accepted as the optimum adopters of the child,” he said.

“It may undermine the need for them to accept that in all likelihood the child will be moving away from their home and thus to fashion a relationship with him on that limited basis.”

Wilson LJ said the issue should be considered by the children in safeguarding proceedings committee of the Family Justice Council and he would send it a copy of the judgment.

The court heard that C was a girl, now aged one, and L was a boy, now aged two. Since their parents were unable to care for them, L lived with the foster parents since the age of two months and C since birth.

The introductory programme with the would-be adoptive parents proceeded as planned until the foster parents, who said they had previously been told by a social worker they would not be suitable, applied for adoption orders in relation to both children.

Coventry City Council halted the movement of the children into the adoptive home the following day. The would-be adopters never saw the children again.

Lawyers for Coventry City Council argued that the foster parents had “occasionally discussed their possible adoption of the children with the social workers but that on each occasion they soon intimated a decision not to pursue it”.

However, Wilson LJ said the case of the foster parents was that early in 2010 a social worker told them that they would not be suitable adopters of the children and that the council never asked them whether they wished to be assessed as possible adopters of them.

They argued that “had Coventry so asked them, they would have responded in the affirmative and that they never intimated a decision not to pursue the possibility of adopting them”.

Lord Justice Wilson said the appeal by Coventry City Council against the injunction in restraint of removal should be allowed and the injunction set aside.

Dame Janet Smith and Lord Neuberger agreed.

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