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24 MAR 2014

Re H (A Child) [2013] EWHC 4501 (Fam)

(Family Division, Theis J, 5 December 2013)

Care order - Parents fled to Ireland - Child in foster care since birth - Care plan for placement in Ireland

The full judgment is available below.

The 18-month-old child had been born in Ireland when his parents, who had a domestically violent relationship, fled from England to evade care proceedings in relation to his two older siblings. Following his birth he was placed with foster carers in Ireland while his parents returned to England. He had since been returned to England and placed in foster care but the local authority now sought final care and placement orders with a care plan for the child to return to the first foster carers in Ireland.

There was no doubt and it was accepted by the mother, who suffered from an unstable personality disorder, that the threshold criteria had been met.

The delay of 18 months for a final decision had been detrimental to the child's welfare. Viability assessments in relation to the father, paternal grandmother and paternal aunt and uncle were unsuccessful. However, a viability assessment of the foster carers in Ireland, with whom the child had lived for the first 14 months of his life was positive and recommended him being placed permanently in their care.

It was clear, particularly bearing in mind the child's emotional and physical needs, the capability of his parents and wider family and the risks of future significant harm, that the placement that most met those needs in accordance with the plan proposed by the local authority was the placement with the foster carers in Ireland. Direct contact with the father was ruled out due to a real risk of destabilising the child's foster placement.

The fully referenced, judicially approved judgment and headnote will appear in a forthcoming issue of Family Law Reports. A detailed summary and analysis of the case will appear in Family Law.


Neutral Citation Number: [2013] EWHC 4501 (Fam)

Case No. FD13P01307



Royal Courts of Justice

Date: Thursday, 5th December 2013


Mrs. Justice Theis


B E T W E E N:

West Sussex County Council


- and -

J & Anor.



Transcribed by BEVERLEY F. NUNNERY & CO

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Mr. R. Cameron (of counsel) appeared on behalf of the Applicant.

Ms Z. Taylor (of counsel) appeared on behalf of the Respondent Mother.

Ms O'Rawe (of counsel) appeared on behalf of the Respondent Father.

Ms G Taylor (of counsel) appeared on behalf of the Guardian.



Mrs Justice Theis:

[1] This matter concerns a young child called H who was born in May 2012, so is now eighteen months of age. His parents are G and J (who I will hereafter refer to as "the mother" and "the father").

[2] This hearing was listed to determine the application by West Sussex County Council (hereafter referred to as "the Local Authority") for a care order, pursuant to section 31 of the Children Act 1989. H is currently placed with foster carers in West Sussex. The Local Authority care plan is to place H for adoption with foster carers who looked after him for the first fourteen months of his life. Those foster carers live in the Republic of Ireland. They do not propose any direct contact between H and his parents. Neither of his parents have in fact seen him since June 2012. The Local Authority proposes annual indirect contact.

[3] When the matter first came before me for directions on 27th November 2013, the indications then were that H's paternal great aunt and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. K, were putting themselves forward to care for H. They had been assessed by the Local Authority. The initial assessment was positive, but the full assessment that followed was not. It did not recommend placement of H in their care. They were sent a copy of the assessment and sought legal advice. Although they did not secure public funding, their solicitor communicated with the Local Authority. I made directions that they should file a statement and, if they did so, the Local Authority were to make arrangements to serve certain identified documents on them and the Guardian visited them in their home last Friday (29th November 2013). She had tried to contact them before completion of her main report (dated 21st November 2013), but they had not responded to her telephone calls. She set out as an attachment to her addendum report the detailed attempts that she had made to contact, speak to and visit them prior to her main report.

[4] Mr. and Mrs. K did file a statement, dated 29th November 2013, and they were consequently served with documents and the Guardian (as I have said) went to see them. They were expected to attend court yesterday morning, the first day of this two day hearing. They did not attend. There was a delayed start and the enquiries that were made are set out in a note that is going to be prepared by Miss Taylor, counsel for the children's Guardian. Those enquiries culminated in a telephone call to Mr. Martin, the social work team manager, from Mrs. K at about twelve thirty informing him that they were not going to attend court today or pursue their request for H to live with them. This confirmed the indications from their solicitor in telephone conversations with Miss Taylor, counsel for the Guardian, earlier that they had been in two minds whether to attend court or not. In light of that information I acceded to the application made by the Guardian, and supported by all the parties, that the hearing should proceed. H has now been waiting eighteen months for a decision regarding his future long term care.

[5] The position of the parties at this hearing can be summarised as follows: Firstly, the Local Authority seeks a full care order. They have issued an application for a placement order and propose that application should be listed before me on 20th December 2013. This will enable them to consult and seek the consent of the Irish authorities, pursuant to Article 56 Brussels Regulation No 2201/2003 as to the placement of H with the foster carers in Ireland. They have set out in their documentation lodged for this hearing the legal route by which they seek the placement of H with the foster carers in Ireland, so the necessary assessments can be undertaken to enable those foster carers to apply for an adoption pursuant to the requirements of the Hague Convention. They seek to follow the route endorsed by Pauffley J in the case of Kent County Council v. PA-K and IA (a child) [2013] EWHC 578 (Fam). That legal analysis will need to be considered in more detail at the hearing in December. I have indicated and there is no dispute that I will give permission today if I make a care order that the Local Authority should be deemed to have made an application to remove the child from the jurisdiction, pursuant to section 28 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, as their plan - subject to the responses from the Article 56 request - will be that H is placed with the foster carers in Ireland soon after the hearing in December.

[6] The mother's position is that she recognises she cannot care for H. She supports the plan of the Local Authority, both in relation to placement and contact and the legal structure that they propose, save that it was indicated yesterday that she would like consideration to be given to one final direct contact with H. That is going to be investigated and considered, in particular, by the children's Guardian prior to the hearing that is fixed in December. She opposes the father having any contact with H.

[7] The father supported Mr. and Mrs. K if they sought H to be placed in their care. If they did not, he indicated through his counsel that he supported the care plan regarding placement with the foster carers in Ireland. Although he did not attend court, Ms. O'Rawe informed me that his instructions were to seek direct contact once per year.

[8] The Guardian, Janet Fleming's, position is that she supported the care plan of the Local Authority for the reasons detailed in her main report. In fact, as matters transpired, no party required any oral evidence to be given at the hearing yesterday and agreed the matter could be dealt with on submissions. Following the oral submissions of the parties, I reserved judgment until today.

[9] There is no issue between the parties in relation to the relevant legal framework. Before the State can interfere in family life they are required to prove that the threshold criteria are met, pursuant to section 31 of the Children Act 1989, namely that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm and that the harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to the care given to the child or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give him. The parties are agreed the Local Authority have discharged that burden and there is an agreed threshold document which should be attached to the order made today. It provides as follows:

(1) On 12th July 2013, H arrived from Ireland and was placed in foster care in West Sussex.

(2) On 17th July 2013, West Sussex County Council made an application for an interim care order.

In relation to the threshold criteria, the Local Authority submit that, at the relevant time and it is accepted, the threshold criteria were met for the following reasons:

(1) Care and placement orders were made in respect of the mother's first two children in the Sussex Western Family Proceedings Court.

(2) H's parents fled to, Ireland, during the final hearing of the case in relation to the mother's first two children while the mother was heavily pregnant. H was born in, Ireland, and the Health Service Executive issued care proceedings on the day of his birth and obtained appropriate court orders. H remained in foster care in Ireland from the day of his birth until his arrival in West Sussex on 12th July 2013. H's parents abandoned him by returning to live permanently in Bath, England, while H remained in foster care in Ireland. H's parents were in a domestically violent relationship. H's father was sentenced on 21st August 2012 to twenty weeks imprisonment for assaulting the mother and there is a five year restraining order in place. H's parents have not attempted or offered, either separately or together, to provide a suitable home for H. The mother suffers with an emotionally unstable personality disorder for which she is now reportedly receiving Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. She has recently been diagnosed as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by her GP. The mother's solicitor in England informed the Local Authority on 5th July 2013 that the mother concedes that a care order and placement order should be made in respect of H.

For these reasons the Local Authority submitted that the threshold criteria are met in respect of H and that he would be likely to suffer neglect, emotional harm and possibly physical harm if he returned to the care of his mother or father, either together or separately. The child has been in a legal vacuum since his birth and has never lived with his parents.

[10] The threshold criteria having been met I now turn to consider what order the court should make. In doing so H's welfare is the court's paramount consideration. Having regard to the matters set out in the welfare checklist in section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989, the court should consider the least interventionist order and whether the order being considered and applied for is proportionate to the identified risk. In reaching its decision the court must evaluate and then balance all the options and consider the relative advantages and disadvantages identified in favour or against each option. This is in accordance with the recent guidance given by the Court of Appeal in the case of Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146 and, in particular, I have regard and very much have in mind the fundamental principles that are set out between paragraphs 17 and 29 of that judgment.

The Background

[11] There is little dispute about the background. As has already been said in relation to the threshold criteria, the mother had two children before H. Both children were removed from the mother's care in April 2011 and were made the subject of placement orders in April 2012. The main concern in those proceedings were the chaotic and inconsistent parenting, the chronic history of incidents of domestic violence with a number of the mother's partners and the mother's inability to separate from those partners despite support to do so being provided by the Local Authority and other related services. Within those proceedings, social work risk assessments and psychological and psychiatric reports were undertaken. They all concluded that the mother was unable to protect her children from the risk of future harm, in particular emotional and physical harm, from domestic violence. Dr. Berelowitz, a consultant psychiatrist, in his report dated 22nd August 2011 stated as follows:

"Miss G's personality is characterised by emotional instability over a long period of time which is in turn characterised by peripatetic relationships, substance misuse, self-harm behaviours, impulsivity and aggression. From her history she shows marked co-dependency issues with unsuitable partners and an inability to separate reliably from them, despite threats of violence and substance misuse."

Dr. Bailey, the psychologist, in his psychological assessment completed in November 2011 observed in relation to the older of the two children as follows:

"[he] appears to have developed a number of coping strategies that have helped him during the frightening and inconsistent times with his mother and her partner."

[12] As I have said, at the time of the final hearing concerning her two older children, the mother was about eight months pregnant with H. When the court refused a further adjournment, she fled to Ireland with the father. H was born in May 2012 and was immediately placed with foster carers, Mr. and Mrs. X, following interim care orders being made by the Irish Courts. The mother accepts in her statement that she fled with the intention of avoiding any action the Local Authority here were going to take. They had held a pre-birth child protection conference, which concluded that they planned to apply to the court to remove H from his mother's care at birth. This was because of the risk of future significant harm from the history and continuing domestic violence in the parents' relationship.

[13] The parents had commenced their relationship in about 2010 and there followed a recurring cycle of incidents of domestic violence followed by separations and then reconciliations. This very unstable situation was exacerbated by the mother and possibly the father taking drugs. The final incident of domestic violence resulted in the father's arrest. He was imprisoned for a period of twenty weeks on 21st August 2012 for assaulting the mother and a five year restraining order was imposed preventing him from harassing the mother. He has a number of convictions for violent behaviour and has also been arrested and investigated in relation to other allegations made by the mother of domestic violence and serious assault.

[14] Shortly after H's birth the parents returned to this jurisdiction and (as I have said) have not seen H since June 2012. They then separated. It appears from the judgment of Birmingham - J who considered the position within the Irish Courts - they made periodic contact with the authorities in Ireland, but took no consistent steps to seek to resume the care of H.

[15] The equivalent of the Local Authority in Ireland, the Health Service Executive, issued proceedings in Ireland immediately upon H's birth and H remained placed with foster carers pursuant to interim care orders. There were requests made from the HSE to this Local Authority to take responsibility for H, in particular, as the parents had returned to this jurisdiction. The requests that were made are outlined at paragraphs 12 and 13 of the judgment of Birmingham J, given in about June or July 2013. Those requests were not taken up by West Sussex County Council resulting in the Irish authorities seeking an order under Article 15 with a request for the transfer of the proceedings to this jurisdiction. This came before Birmingham J on 2nd May 2013 when he made an order requesting this court to assume jurisdiction. That request was accepted by the President of the Family Division by order of 24th May 2013 and, on 19th July 2013, the matter was transferred from the High Court to the Brighton County Court to proceed there; the Local Authority here having by that stage issued care proceedings.

[16] H was placed with foster carers in this jurisdiction on 12th July 2013. The proceedings were transferred back to the High Court in October as the Local Authority care plan, following their investigations, was for H to be placed back with the foster carers in Ireland. It was in those circumstances that the matter first came before me for directions at the end of November.

[17] I agree with the observations of Birmingham J in his judgment about the delays in this case at paragraphs 13 and 14. The consequences for H are that he has had to wait eighteen months for a decision to be made about his future care. Such a delay has, in my judgement, been detrimental to his welfare. It has resulted in periods of time when no positive action was taken, either by the authorities in Ireland or by the authorities in this jurisdiction, to investigate and make enquiries as to what the realistic options were for his future care.

[18] Following the transfer here and this court being seised, this Local Authority have conducted a number of assessments. A viability assessment of the father was undertaken by Miss Swann, the allocated social worker, and is dated 2nd August 2013. In addition to the extensive background material that was available, he was seen twice by Miss Swann. The father had no permanent address and was proposing that his mother accommodated him and H. However, the assessment undertaken of the paternal grandmother was not positive. The main concerns related to the father's previous criminal offences and other violent incidents alleged by the mother. As Miss Swann concluded:

"There is nothing that would lead me to believe that the father would make a safe parent for H at this time and within H's timescales."

In relation to contact between H and his father, a separate risk assessment was undertaken which involved three interviews with the father. That assessment highlights the concerns in relation to previous incidents of domestic violence, the father's minimising of the history of violence and only having selective memory recall in relation to the background. That report and risk assessment records the father's effective abandonment of H when he was one month old by returning to this jurisdiction and phone calls that he maintained he had made to the Irish authorities were in fact made by his mother on his behalf. That risk assessment concludes that there should be no direct contact between H and his father, but there should be indirect contact.

[19] The second viability assessment that was undertaken was of the paternal grandmother and, again, that is dated 2nd August 2013. This assessment followed a two hour meeting with the social worker and, in addition to the father, she has two younger children. As is clear from the information within that assessment, she has had a very unsettled life with a number of moves. On her own account, she had moved frequently necessitating the children changing schools. She gave a number of reasons for the moves including not being liked, the children being bullied and having to flee domestic violence. There were grave concerns expressed in the report about the presentation of her youngest child who is thirteen years of age. He was described as being so nervous during the visit by the social worker as to make it impossible to speak to him. The assessment did not recommend placement of H with her was further considered.

[20] The third members of the paternal family that were considered were the paternal aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. K. They have three children aged between seven and ten years of age. One of the children has Special Educational Needs and requires considerable support at school, and his parents are receiving support from CAMHS to assist them in managing his care and behaviour. The viability assessment was positive with a recommendation that a full assessment was undertaken. The social worker stated in that viability assessment:

"I believe that this family, on current information, need to be further assessment as a potential viable placement for H. They are prepared to care for H as Special Guardians; provide a safe, warm, loving family for him and look after him through his minority and beyond."

[21] The full assessment was undertaken by Miss Cava and is dated 29th September 2013. She saw Mr. and Mrs. K over two days in August and carried out extensive enquiries, including with the children's schools. In a detailed report, Miss Cava makes a number of very positive observations. She describes Mr. and Mrs. K as "loving and sensitive parents who have resolutely remained committed to all of their children, despite the challenging experiences that they have shared concerning C's global delay and P's premature birth. They are clearly a closely bonded family. They enjoy family life and spending time together. They have thought in depth about the commitment that they wish to make to H for the rest of his minority". The concerns in the report focused on a number of issues: Firstly, the proximity of the paternal grandmother (the father's mother) who is a frequent visitor to the home and who is in regular contact with H's father and clearly had a strong sense of connection with H. Secondly, Miss Cava felt that Mr. and Mrs. K minimised the risks the father posed to them caring for H and how they would manage the risk of the father's violent behaviour. The third area of concern was the apparent failure of them to volunteer relevant information. For example, the fact that Mrs. K's brother had been sentenced six years ago for a serious violent offence and is due for release and that her mother (namely Mrs. K's mother) was effectively living with them. Although she had an address in Croydon, she spent significant periods of time with them. Finally, there was a concern about Mrs. K's attitude towards H's mother and she appeared to show little understanding for the mother's position in the context of the history of violence to her by the father.

[22] Miss Cava, whilst acknowledging that her conclusion was "finely balanced", did not recommend that H was placed in the K's care. She considered that Mr. and Mrs. K had minimised the difficulties in maintaining family boundaries in the face of conflicting family loyalties they would very likely be placed under. Further, they would very likely be placed under pressure to allow unsupervised contact between H and his father and his grandmother. There is a high frequency of contact between members of the paternal family. All those interviewed minimised the concerns regarding the father's behaviour and they lacked insight into the impact his behaviour would have. Miss Cava considered that - due to the history of the father's offending, the assessment of the risks he poses and the difficulty Mr. and Mrs. K would have in managing that - H is likely to be placed at risk of emotional and physical harm. This is in addition to the failure, as she saw it, by them to volunteer relevant information. Miss Cava concluded as follows:

"Mr. and Mrs. K evidently love and care well for their children. However, they currently require additional advice and support to manage C's behaviour due to his anger issues and P needs extra support with her learning and physical development. Meeting the needs of a further child in these complex circumstances would be challenging for most parents who are not managing the daily pressure of additional family members and their expectations, and it is likely that H's placement would become vulnerable under all of these circumstances."

[23] Finally there was a viability assessment of the foster carers, Mr. and Mrs. X. in Ireland. That was undertaken over a period of two days. They had cared, as I have said, for Hfor the first fourteen months of his life. They have two children of their own. They helped support the move when H was placed with foster carers here and have remained in contact, not only with this Local Authority, but also the foster carers that H is currently placed with. They have been approved as foster carers in Ireland and are described as being "open, friendly and very warm and have an excellent relationship with each other". There are no concerns about the care of their own children and that assessment recommends placement of H in their care.

[24] Miss Swann has been the allocated social worker in this case since June 2013. Her three statements outline the extensive enquiries she has undertaken in this case investigating the future placement options for H, both with family members and a placement outside the birth family. It is perfectly clear that she has kept an open mind in relation to all options and they have each been thoroughly investigated. The Local Authority are to be commended on the enormous amount of work that they have undertaken in a relatively short period of time in conducting the various assessments prior to reaching their conclusions as to H's future care. The amount of work that they have done has helped significantly to make up, to some extent, the delays that have taken place earlier on in H's life in relation to planning for his future care. In my judgement, the Local Authority have thoroughly considered all the options in particular placement within the birth family. Miss Swann's conclusion, having considered the options and the welfare checklist, is that H should be placed with the foster carers, Mr. and Mrs. X. in Ireland. She does not consider any of the options advanced by the paternal family will provide H with the long term stability and security his welfare requires. Her analysis is not only clear from the statements that she has filed, but also by an addendum document entitled "BS Analysis for the Agency Decision Maker, dated 6th December 2013" where that document goes through each of the options that were considered by the Local Authority identifying the advantages and disadvantages in relation to the options set out.

[25] Mr. and Mrs. K stated they wished to contest the conclusions reached by Miss Cava. They were sent a copy of the assessment and instructed solicitors who, as I have said, were unable to secure public funding. They filed a statement setting out their plans and the areas they took issue with in Miss Cava's report, in particular what is said about their son's needs and their attitude to the mother. Further documents were sent to them in good time for them to consider them prior to this hearing. As I have indicated, they did not attend and, for the reasons I have already given, I decided to proceed with this hearing.

[26] The final pieces of the jigsaw in the evidence that the court has available are the three reports from Miss Fleming, the children's Guardian. In her main report, dated 22nd November 2013, she sets out in detail the options that were considered by the Local Authority and the advantages and disadvantages in relation to the options. She also sets out in summary (the detail being provided later) the attempts that she made to contact Mr. and Mrs. K and to discuss further with them their proposals to care for H. Unfortunately, prior to her report dated 22nd November 2013, she had been unsuccessful in her attempts to contact them, either by telephone or by email. Following the directions hearing before me, Miss Fleming made further attempts to contact Mr. and Mrs. K and this time was successful and was able to visit them on 29th November 2013. She filed an addendum report, dated 3rd December 2013. I know (because I was informed yesterday) that that report has been seen by Mr. and Mrs. K because it was sent to them via their solicitor who confirmed that it had been sent to them. In the addendum report, Miss Fleming states as follows in relation to Mr. and Mrs. K, at paragraph 26:

"Mr. and Mrs. K and Mrs. J spoke positively and fondly about H. They were keen to know how he was progressing and expressed they considered him to be part of their family. There was a framed photograph of H displayed amongst photographs of Mr. and Mrs. K's own children."

However before that paragraph she sets out the details that she discussed, not only with Mr. and Mrs. K, but also Mrs. J during her visit on 29th November 2013. In particular she outlines in that report that Mrs. J, the paternal grandmother, was there and she expressed some strong views. She did not consider H would be at any risk whatsoever if he lived with the K family. When the Guardian sought to explain the reasons for the concern about the risk and the foundation of the risk, Mrs. J found that difficult. Whilst Mrs. K considered the father's previous behaviour towards the mother was unacceptable, it was clear from the Guardian's observations that she doubted whether, in reality, because of the dynamics within the paternal family, Mr. and Mrs. K would be able to withstand the pressures from the strongly held views of other members of the paternal family.

Discussion of the Issues and the Court's Decision

[27] The parents realistically acknowledge that neither of them are able to care for H. This is a brave decision for any parent to make, but, the evidence, in my judgement, is overwhelmingly clear that with their difficult and unsettled backgrounds neither of them would be able to provide good enough parenting to meet H's future welfare needs. They both have overwhelming needs of their own, which would prevent them being able to consistently prioritise H's needs.

[28] Members of the wider paternal family have put themselves forward as carers (as I have described earlier in this judgment) to care for H and each have been assessed. Those assessments do not recommend placement within the family. Whilst acknowledging the benefits to H of being brought up within the paternal family particularly in relation to his identity, that has to be looked at in the wider context of the ability of those family members to meet his overall welfare needs. He is a young child who needs long term security and stability. The only family placement that has been realistically possible is with Mr. and Mrs. K. The assessment of them had many positive features and reports rightly recognised the importance of H being placed within the birth family. However the assessment reports also highlight the risks of instability, disruption and future significant harm that would be a feature of H living within that household. This would be caused by the management of the behaviour and demands of the needs of their own children, the pressure and risks of disruption of the placement from the paternal grandmother and the father and the concerns about their failure to volunteer important relevant information during the assessment. I agree with the author of the assessment, Miss Cava, that these features make it unlikely that they will be able to provide H with the emotional and physical security his welfare clearly requires. Whilst not doubting their good intentions in putting themselves forward, the future risks of harm are, in my judgement, significant and real. In their statement dated 29th November 2013, Mr. and Mrs. K said as follows:

"We think the most important issue is the love, care, support and guidance we can provide for H in a safe and happy family unit."

Whilst not doubting the genuineness of the expression that they set out in their statement and their wish to be able to care for H, I am quite satisfied on the evidence, for the reasons that are set out in the assessment, that they would not be able to do so in a way that is consistent with H's welfare needs, even taking into account the enormous benefits to any child of being placed within the birth family.

[29] As I have indicated, Mr. and Mrs. K did not attend court yesterday, despite all the arrangements being put in place to enable them to attend and participate in this hearing including (I am told) the Guardian taking detailed information about the location of this court and all the other practical arrangements. The Guardian in her addendum report (which confirms the matters she set out at pages 5-6 of her main report) states at paragraph 32:

"The matters which are of concern to me include that H has already been subjected to upheaval and delay in the planning for his permanence and he needs decisions taken without delay. Notwithstanding the issues outlined above regarding the assessment and the positive elements of the assessment of Mr. and Mrs. K, there are significant concerns about a placement in the paternal family, not least because of the risk which Mr. J presents and the risk of harm to H through the potential for unregulated contact with him. The close relationship between Mrs. K and her sister, H's grandmother, who does not appear to accept the risks which her son might pose, the potential risks from Mr. J and the lack of transparency from Mr. and Mrs. K regarding CAMHS and about J."

[30] The assessment of the foster carers, as I have already indicated, Mr. and Mrs. X. in Ireland is positive and, whilst it is recognised that they are not biologically related to H, they did in fact provide care for him during the first fourteen months of his life. They have remained committed to caring for him and the reports all confirm that they are able to meet his long term welfare needs and provide a secure and stable home. It is a home that is not unfamiliar to H and they have the full knowledge about the background to the family and agree with the proposals made by the Local Authority regarding indirect contact with the birth family. In addition, they would be able to and are willing to facilitate contact with the half-siblings.

[31] It is clear to me - particularly bearing in mind H's emotional and physical needs, the capability of his parents and wider family and the risks of future significant harm - that the placement that most meets those needs in accordance with the plan proposed by the Local Authority is the placement with the foster carers in Ireland. The Local Authority have set out in the most recent statement from Miss Swann, dated 3rd December 2013, the structure in relation to their proposals regarding the assessment of Mr. and Mrs. X. as foster carers of West Sussex County Council. There is a timetable for that to be able to take place.

[32] In addition there has been advice sought from specialist counsel, Sarah Fennell, in relation to the legal position. Her advice is helpfully summarised in the position statement prepared by counsel, Mr. Cameron, dated 26th November 2013. At paragraph 5, he summarises the main points arising from that advice as follows: Firstly, pursuant to the Adoption Act 2010 in Ireland, an adoption in these circumstances would be an inter-country adoption effected outside the State which is in compliance with the provisions of the Hague Convention. The adoption authority in Ireland is the Central Authority in Ireland for the purposes of the Hague Convention and an inter-country adoption effected outside the State will, unless contrary to public policy, be recognised in Ireland where it is effected in accordance with the Hague Convention and it will be deemed to have been effected by a valid adoption order. If the adoption order has the effect in the State where it is made of terminating a pre-existing legal parent/child relationship then, upon recognition in Ireland, the child shall be considered as the child of the adopters and the child's natural parents lose all parental rights and are freed from all parental duties. It then goes on to consider the position in relation to residence orders and Special Guardianship orders and also confirms that, following adoption on recognition, the birth parents become legal strangers to the child and possible legal applications in respect of the child will be viewed in this context. She also sets out that there is no statutory system of post-adoption contact in Ireland. There it is considered a natural consequence of adoption in Ireland, but the right to apply for access is extinguished on the making of an adoption order. The scope for any form of access between the birth parents and adoptive parents would be limited to voluntary arrangements entered into between the parents. Finally, she deals with the position in relation to citizenship about which she said:

"Upon an inter-country adoption effected outside the State being recognised where either spouse is an Irish citizen, the adopted child not already an Irish citizen shall be an Irish citizen."

But she also notes that H has an entitlement to Irish citizenship by virtue of being born in Ireland to parents at least one of whom was, at the time of his birth, a British citizen.

[33] I have considered the submissions made on behalf of the father regarding direct contact and I am entirely satisfied that - bearing in mind the history and the real concerns regarding the father's previous unstable behaviour; his failure to be consistent and reliable in relation to his actions, for example not attending the last two hearings, and the need for H to have security and stability - I can see no welfare benefit for H for there to be annual direct contact. On the contrary, I consider that such contact has the real risk of destabilising any placement. I consider it very unlikely that this father will be reliable in attending any such contact and there, as I have said, would be a real risk that he would seek to undermine the placement. His support of it has not been unconditional. The purpose of contact is to assist H in relation to his identity and his history. That can be achieved by indirect contact and I am satisfied that this Local Authority will ensure that suitable arrangements are put in place to ensure that that occurs.

[34] So for those reasons I will make a final care order today. I will adjourn the placement application that I am told has now been issued to be heard before me, sitting in Brighton County Court on Friday 20th December 2013.

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