Welsh council criticised after couples became embroiled in ‘nightmare’ adoption case
Social services bosses at a Welsh council have come under fire from a High Court judge after two couples became embroiled in “nightmare” litigation when a woman changed her mind about giving up a baby daughter for adoption.
Mr Justice Francis said a social worker had “immediately accepted” the woman’s pre-birth decision to give up the baby and had “actively” encouraged the little girl’s parents to go through with adoption.
He said the little girl was consequently given to a couple who wanted to adopt her when she was three hours old.
The two couples then became involved in a family court battle over the child when her mother had a change of heart about letting her go.
Mr Justice Francis said that fight ended shortly before the girl’s first birthday when he ruled that she should leave her adoptive parents and return to her biological parents.
Detail of the case has emerged in a written ruling on the case by Mr Justice Francis which has been published online.
The couple who wanted to adopt had asked Mr Justice Francis to let them make an adoption application.
But the judge ruled against them after concluding that such an application was “bound to fail”.
He said the little girl should leave the couple’s home and be integrated back into her birth family.
The judge, who analysed evidence at a family court trial in Cardiff, said a concern had been raised about the girl’s mother’s mental health around the time of the birth.
But he said a social worker had not counselled the girl’s mother, before or following the birth, and the council had not done all it to ensure that the youngster could be brought up in her birth family if possible.
The judge said as a result “two decent couples” found themselves “pitted against each other” in litigation” they could not have “wished for in their worst nightmares”.
He said the “human misery” in the court room during the trial had been “palpable”.
The judge, who is based in the Family Division of the High Court in London, said the litigation had been “necessitated” by the council’s “failings”.
Lawyers representing the council had apologised, the judge said.
Mr Justice Francis said no-one involved in the case – including the council – could be identified.
He said the council was a “Welsh local authority”.
Mr Justice Francis heard how the mother had named the little girl and “struggled” to leave her on the day she was born – and given to the would-be adopters.
Two days later a concern had been raised about the mother’s mental health.
The judge suggested that council staff should have done more to ensure that the woman really wanted to let her daughter go.
“When the mother informed the local authority social worker of her decision to relinquish her unborn child, it was immediately accepted by that social worker as being for the best, and the local authority put in place proposed adopters from birth,” said Mr Justice Francis.
“In my judgment, they had a duty to discuss this with the mother, in fact with both parents, in detail, before accepting the position rather than actively encouraging them to go through with the adoption.”
He said legislation mandated councils to provide “pre-birth counselling”.
That counselling would include “whether the mother could care for the child with support or whether there were members of the family who could care for her”.
Mr Justice Francis added: “Following the birth, the social worker must counsel the mother to see if she still wanted to the child to be adopted. At the first statutory review, consideration should be given to whether there still remains a chance that the child will return home.”
He went on: “The local authority must do whatever it can to ensure that the child is brought up within her birth family if at all possible.
“Prospective adopters, who are selected to accept a relinquished baby from hospital, should be informed they will need to be robust because of the possibility that the parents may change their minds.”
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