Court aims to ensure boy aged four never forgets his terminally-ill mother
Heartbreaking adoption row over child set to lose only family member
A life story record must be prepared in a bid to help ensure a four-year-old boy remembers his dying mother, a High Court judge has recommended.
With no other family members available to look after her child, the woman is disputing a Northern Ireland trust's opinion that adoption is in his best interests.
She has voiced fears that her son's name would be changed and he may forget about her.
In a preliminary ruling on efforts to secure a care order for the boy, who has developmental issues, Mr Justice O'Hara held that the trust has met the threshold to proceed to a final hearing.
He recognised that changing the name of the child - referred to only as 'M' - was more likely through adoption than long-term foster care.
But, according to the judge, the boy's memories of his mother may be affected by any disability which emerges as he grows.
He said: "This is, however, a case in which it is obvious that a life story record must be prepared so that as M's life continues he can be informed about his background.
"That is what happens in most cases and there are powerful reasons for it being done here."
The child's 41-year-old mother, identified only as Ms B, has a mild learning disability.
She is now terminally ill with cancer and has refused to disclosed the name of her son's father, claiming only that he died of a drug overdose after M had been born.
With the woman's deteriorating health compounded by suffering from angina, arthritis and asthma, her son has stayed with carers since June last year.
Efforts were made to identify a family member who can look after M in the long-term but none were found.
Although he still sees his mother, contact has become less frequent, in part because she does not want him to be distressed by her appearance.
The trust issued care proceedings last December, citing concerns that no one would have parental responsibility for the boy. Ms B agreed to interim care arrangements before making clear her opposition to any long-term plan including adoption. She appeared to favour an order which would place her son in long-term foster care.
However, the trust insists M's future interests are best protected by adoption. Emphasising that no fault was being attributed to Ms B, the authority's lawyers argued that she cannot care for her son as a result of her terminal ill-health and other illnesses. Counsel for the boy's mother submitted that the trust's application was based on a misconception that nobody would have parental responsibility for M after her death.
The court heard how she developed a friendship with another woman, referred to as Ms A, whom she appointed as testamentary guardian to her son.
Although Ms A decided she could not adopt or foster M, she has indicated that she would like to play a role in decisions about his future.
Ms B's barrister also contended that she is currently capable of exercising parental responsibility because she can make decisions about M's welfare.
In his newly published judgment, Mr Justice O'Hara said the issue about whether the boy should be adopted or fostered would be for future debate.
"I am satisfied that the trust has established the threshold criteria," he said. Confirming the case can proceed to a final hearing, the judge indicated it was up to the trust to present a plan from which a care order may be made.
He stressed, however: "It does not follow from threshold criteria being established that a care order will necessarily be made, and there are obvious issues to be considered about whether long-term foster care or adoption is to be preferred."
He also pointed out that it would take "little effort or imagination to devise a role in M's future for Ms A, through whom an appropriate and supportive memory of Ms B could be maintained".
The judge concluded: "The trust has a long and positive record of working with Ms B to help her and her son.
"Its application to the court has been made with the best of intentions.
"It would be disappointing if a way could not be found through the differences between it and Ms B at this late stage of her life."