Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland mother wins High Court battle to stop her son's adoption

By Alan Erwin

A Northern Ireland woman whose seven-year-old son was taken into care at birth has won a High Court battle over his proposed adoption.

A judge rejected claims that she was unreasonably withholding consent to the long-term parenting plans.

Sir Reg Weir acknowledged the love and security the boy has received from his foster family.

But he stressed the strict legal test for the compulsory severing of a relationship between parent and child.

"Only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by an overriding requirement pertaining to the child's welfare - in short, where nothing else will do," he said. 

A newly published judgment set out how all five of the woman's children have been placed in foster care. She cannot be named to protect their identities.

Allegations of substance misuse and social workers finding older siblings in bed wearing their school uniforms in an unkempt house were cited.

Complaints were also made that the woman used underage babysitters and allowed young people to drink in her home - claims she denied.

In July 2010 another child, then aged two, was brought to hospital with an unexplained limp, where x-rays showed a healing fracture.

Investigations revealed that child, referred to as AL, had been left with a minder earlier that month while the woman went on holiday to Donegal with her other children.

The childminder said she had noticed AL limping but was unable to contact the mother because her mobile phone could apparently receive no calls.

She claimed not to know the mother very well, and to have been paid £100 to keep her child for a week.

A year later the boy at the centre of the case was born and immediately made the subject of an interim care order.

He has been looked after by foster parents who have provided an "excellent" home for him ever since, the court heard.

The South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust was seeking an order dispensing with the mother's consent to the proposed adoption.

Proceedings were issued on the basis that her agreement was being unreasonable withheld.

The mother accepted withholding consent, but denied it was unreasonable. 

She has given her backing to the placement and confirmed she has no intention of seeking to disrupt those arrangements.

"I am confident that the foster carers will continue to appropriately love and care for the child and all the other children in their care, irrespective of their legal status," she stated.

"The child is thriving and I am happy for this to remain the case."

With the parties agreed that the boy should permanently remain with the foster family, Sir Reg had to determined the proper legal status - long-term fostering or adoption.

In his ruling he pointed to a psychologist's report which recognised changes in the mother, including developed empathy for her children and admissions to mistakes for which she apologised.

Emphasising the consent that the boy should remain with his foster family, the judge also noted the mother's love for her child has never been in question.

"How can it be said that nothing else but freeing for adoption will do?" he asked.

"How can it be said after all her work and progress, that having been denied any opportunity to demonstrate her ability to parent the child, that the withholding of her consent to the child's adoption was unreasonable?"

Refusing the application, Sir Reg concluded: "In my view the Trust has entirely failed to discharge the high legal standard required of it before 'unreasonableness' could be found."

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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