A local authority has taken the unusual step of taking an adopted child back into care after government timescales meant the carer’s suitability was not properly assessed.
Southend council made the court application to return the child, known as SL, to its care when concerns were raised her prospective adopter was not able to properly safeguard or act in her best interests. The assessment of the prospective adopter was carried out by Trafford council, where she lived.
SL was born in December 2012 with quadriplegic cerebral palsy and a number of other health and developmental difficulties. She was placed for adoption with a 28-year-old woman known as RY in March 2014. SL had been living with RY after a placement order had been made and while a final adoption order was in the process of being granted.
Mr Justice Hayden granted the order to return SL to local authority care after concluding the prospective adoptive mother was “a real risk to SL…and not safe to be involved in the care of any child or vulnerable adult with disabilities”.
Southend’s legal counsel, France Heaton QC, said: “The reality of the situation is adoption agencies are being judged and measured by government departments on the speed of time taken to match children, and poor performance leads to penalties.
“This adoption agency recognises that these pressures may have resulted in proper scrutiny not being fully implemented in this case.”
Although no specific finding was made by the judge around the impact of timescales, Justice Hayden was clear “enquiries made into RY’s physical and mental health were less than satisfactory.”
Head of Southend’s children’s services, John O’Loughlin said: “The priority of this case was what happened to the child after the hearing and decision, and not what had gone before it.
“Although part of the submission by our counsel references government-imposed timescales putting pressures around adoption, this was a general statement about the adoption environment that all local councils face.”
Adoption timescales of 26 weeks came into use from July 2013 and became law in April last year as part of the Children and Families Act, 2014.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Cases involving placement order applications are not subject to the 26 week time limit and no penalties are imposed on local authorities for delays on individual adoption cases.
“But no child should be denied the chance of a permanent, loving home and it is essential that care is taken to avoid bureaucratic delays.”
Concerns around RY’s suitability to care for SL were first raised when she began to act in an obstructive way towards medical professionals, for example declining rudimentary tests such as blood pressure checks.
Justice Hayden said: “When parents are with children making the significant transition from intensive care onto the ward, they are usually extremely eager to have the reassurance that these routine tests can provide.” He described her refusal of such monitoring as “bizarre”.
On other occasions RY discharged SL from hospital against medical advice. She refused recommended pain medication and made “repeated manipulative and highly dangerous” attempts to acquire sedation for her, despite being advised this was not safe for a child with SL’s respiratory difficulties.
She also administered oxygen to SL unnecessarily despite not being appropriately trained.
The judge said: “That RY should do this, that she should feel knowledgeable and empowered enough to do it, even before she had been granted the adoption order and full parental responsibility, is profoundly troubling.
“I find her judgment and her behaviour was irrational, unstable and she had become, I am truly sad to say, a real risk to SL.”
Hayden added her was struck by RY’s “ alarming and at times really quite shocking dismissal of medical opinion to a degree which simply revealed a distorted perception”.
RY had a disability which meant she was in a wheelchair, as well as a diagnosis of Asperger’s. There had been at various times in her life some concern from medical professionals that her physical difficulties might have a psychosomatic element. The doctors treating SL described RY’s presentation as “clinically unusual”.
She was pre-occupied with her own health, of which she gave inconsistent accounts to doctors, and she spoke about SL in an “over-medicalised” way, Justice Hayden said.
In addition to this, the assessment report prepared by the adoption team did not address RY’s capacity physically to parent a disabled youngster as the child got older and heavier.
Justice Hayden said while a disability in itself should not necessarily preclude someone from adopting, enquiries into RY’s physical and mental health were limited and unsatisfactory.
He said: “RY is putting her own desire to control decisions about SL’s care above SL’s need for appropriate medical care.”
Justice Hayden dismissed RY’s application for adoption and granted Southend council an order to remove the child from her care, under section 35 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002.
Trafford council has been approached for comment.