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Essex County Council v X and Y and Others [2005] EWHC 2498 (Fam)

Local authority application for orders freeing children for adoption granted, dispensing with parental consent.

Essex County Council v X and Y and Others [2005] EWHC 2498 (Fam)

Family Division: Pauffley J (8 August 2005)

Local authority application for orders freeing children for adoption granted, dispensing with parental consent.

This was an application by the local authority for orders freeing two children, one aged 4 years and the other 14 months, for adoption. Despite substantial efforts having been made over a number of years to support the family, there was genuine concern that the parents were unable to cope with the day-to-day care of their children. Care orders had previously been made on the basis of care plans for adoption or alternative placement within the wider family, and the children had been living with foster parents since October 2004.

When making the care orders, the judge had critically found, amongst other findings, that: the older child had suffered significant emotional harm as a result of the parents' lack of responsiveness and warmth towards her; there was a likelihood of emotional harm to the children resulting from the parents' inability to provide appropriate guidance, consistent boundaries or routines; there was a risk of physical harm to the younger child as a result of rough and careless handling and poor coordination; there was a likelihood of physical harm to the younger child from the older child because of the mother's inability to control and manage her behaviour and the inability of both parents to impose boundaries so as to ensure the children's safety; and there was a likelihood of physical harm arising from the parents' inability to recognise the children's health needs or respond appropriately when they were unwell. In summary, the parents were described as decent people, but they were not capable of managing the intricate anticipatory process of parenting.

On this application, the judge referred to the judgment making the care orders as thorough, balanced and entirely fair, and observed that the judge had reached his decision with great difficulty, given the sense of anguish that would justifiably be felt by decent, law-abiding parents who had done nothing intentionally wrong. Further, she drew attention to a number of developments since that hearing, namely: (1) the withholding of contact between the parents and children, following aggressive behaviour by the mother towards a social worker during a contact visit, and death threats made by the father towards social workers; (2) a family group conference in October 2004, at which the paternal grandparents put themselves forward as being willing to provide a permanent home for the children, although this plan was not supported by the mother or by an assessment carried out by an independent social worker; (3) the fact that this case had attracted considerable media interest, with the consequence that prospective adopters might be less willing to come forward; (4) concern over the fact that the younger child's medical needs might make the selection of suitable adopters more difficult; and (5) a care plan drawn up by the family in July 2005.

Held, the only proper response to the children's needs was for them to be placed within an adoptive family, and their welfare demanded that they be placed for adoption as soon as possible. There was no prospect of the family's care plan of July 2005 meeting the needs of the children, either now or in the longer term, given the fundamental concern running through the care proceedings of emotional harm and an inability to provide for the emotional needs of the children.

Further, it was appropriate to dispense with parental consent to adoption, since there were a number of matters in this case which would impel a reasonable parent in the position of this mother and this father to agree to adoption.