RE AO (CARE PROCEEDINGS) sub nom LOCAL AUTHORITY v (1) MOTHER (2) FATHER (3) AO (2016)

A local authority applied for a care order in respect of an eight-month-old baby.

The baby had been relinquished for adoption by her parents at birth. The parents were Hungarian but had been living in England for some time. The local authority filed the instant application together with a care plan based on a proposal to place the baby for adoption in Hungary pursuant to the Children Act 1989 Sch.2 Pt II para.19. The mother opposed the care plan, arguing that the child would have a better life in England and that if she was placed in Hungary, it would be easier for her to trace her relatives.

The issues were whether (1) the local authority had proved the grounds for making a care order under s.31(2); (2) the plan to place the child in Hungary was in the best interests of her welfare; (3) it was appropriate to dispense with the mother’s consent to a placement in Hungary.

HELD: (1) The fact that the baby had been given up for adoption did not by itself satisfy the threshold criteria under s.31(2). When a baby had been simply abandoned on a doorstep, it was likely that the threshold criteria would be satisfied. In cases where the mother had reached the difficult decision that she could not keep the baby, had notified the local authority in advance, and had made responsible plans for the relinquishment of the baby in a way that minimised the risk of harm, it was unlikely that the threshold criteria would be satisfied. It was likely that a baby deprived of her mother’s care would suffer some form of harm, but that would be diminished if the baby was swiftly moved to another carer in a planned way. Even where a baby suffered harm from being deprived of her mother’s care, it did not follow in those circumstances that the harm could be described as being attributable to the care given to the child not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give. A mother who concluded that she could not care for her baby, and who notified the authorities and made responsible plans for relinquishing the baby at birth, was not acting unreasonably. It was not unreasonable for the parents to want the baby to be placed for adoption in England. The local authority had accordingly failed to prove the threshold criteria for making a care order (see paras 19-21 of judgment).

(2) Even if the threshold criteria had been satisfied, the proposed care plan would not have been in the child’s overall interests. Other things being equal, it would be to the child’s advantage to grow up in her own Hungarian culture, but other things were not equal. The child was settled with her English foster carer and a move to Hungary would be far more disruptive and damaging than an adoptive placement in England, which would involve only one change of carer, no language difficulties, and a transition that could be arranged at a pace and in a way that best met the child’s needs. It was important that the baby should be brought up with an awareness of her cultural background, but that factor could be addressed by carefully selecting adopters who were able and willing to accept that she had such needs which they, as her permanent parents, would have to meet. There were potential difficulties if Hungary refused to recognise an English adoption of a child that it regarded as Hungarian, but that did not outweigh the clear benefits of a placement in England (para.27).

(3) If it had been necessary to decide the point, the court would have declined to dispense with the mother’s consent to a placement in Hungary. The mother’s view that it was in her child’s interests to be placed for adoption in England could not be described as unreasonable. It fell within the broad band of choices which a reasonable parent might make, G (Minors) (Care: Leave to Place Outside Jurisdiction), Re [1994] 2 F.L.R. 301 considered (para.32).

Application refused

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