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F-S (A Child: Placement Order) [2021] EWCA Civ 1212

Court of Appeal dismisses a mother’s appeal from the making of a placement order.



The case concerned four children, B, A, C and D. The children were removed from the care of the mother and Mr S at the start of proceedings in November 2019 as a result of domestic violence and poor home conditions. Findings were made that Mr S had caused facial bruising to A.

Plans to rehabilitate B and A to the mother's care were changed in 2020 as it was discovered that the mother had secretly resumed her relationship with Mr S. The court found they had purposefully deceived the court and the LA. Mother conceded she could not resume care of B and A 'at this time' and proposed that they be cared for by the maternal grandmother (who had been negatively assessed) or remain in foster care so that she might resume care in future. 

The eldest child, B, who was almost 6 at the time of the appeal, had been placed on his own in foster care. He had global developmental delay and it was unclear whether he would be able to live independently as an adult.  He had thrived in foster care.

At the conclusion of the final hearing on 8 March 2021, Her Honour Judge Campbell made a placement order for B with a view to an open adoption by his foster carers, including regular contact with his siblings and his mother.  A was made subject to a placement order. C and D were placed with their paternal grandparents under a care order.

In April 2021, the mother applied to revoke the placement order in respect of A.  This was dismissed and permission to appeal refused. 


The mother's appeal related to B only.  The grounds of appeal asserted the judge was wrong in law for three reasons:

(1) As the LA care plan contemplated only placement with the current foster carers who were prepared to continue to care for B without a placement order, it was unreasonable to conclude that a placement order was necessary;

(2) The judge applied the wrong test indicating what course would best meet B's needs rather than setting out why no other course was possible; and

(3) The reasons were insufficient to demonstrate that a placement order was required.

At the appeal, it was accepted that a care order had been inevitable and that the realistic choice was between adoption and adjourning under an ICO to allow for an application for an SGO.  M submitted that the judge was wrong to prefer adoption where the less interventionist SGO would offer equivalent benefits.

Lord Justice Peter Jackson gives the lead judgment.  He sets out the key parts of HHJ Campbell's judgment.  This included a balance sheet of the advantages and disadvantages of the realistic options (long term fostering with a view to an SGO vs adoption) and reasoned conclusions.  He observed that it was a 'notably careful decision'. Such decisions are extremely hard to unsettle on appeal [Re A [2015] EWCA Civ 1254, para 37-9].

The Court of Appeal did not accept that the judge made any error of law.  The judge's description of a placement order for B as that which 'best meets his welfare needs' must be viewed alongside her other statements including that B's needs 'can only be met' by adoption.  The Judge undoubtedly applied the correct test. A specialist judge can be assumed to know how to approach a familiar task unless the contrary is demonstrated, and an isolated turn of phrase, even at a key stage in the reasoning, must be seen in the context of the judgment as a whole.

The judge's reasons were not inadequate. If further explanation had been required, it could have been requested. 

Peter Jackson LJ rejected the arguments put by the mother. In particular:

(1) The judge was entitled to take into account the foster carer's preference for adoption. The argument that their willingness to continue to care for B without a placement order demonstrates that a placement order is not necessary is a non sequitur. The court's statutory assessment cannot be dictated, though it may be influenced, by the attitudes of individuals.

(2) The judge was entitled to consider it essential that B receives the very best possible parenting now and throughout his childhood. Given his likely complex needs, his permanent carers should have the freedom to make decisions for him without being answerable to the LA or to the mother.

(3) The greater stability offered by adoption is relevant.  A child's welfare is measured not only by the care he will receive but also by '"the enduring sense of belonging within a family" [[2013] EWHC 3974 (fam)]. The judge was entitled to regard it as a factor of critical importance.

(4) An SGO is not irreversible. It might be unsettled by disruptive future challenges by mother.

(5) The plan for an open adoption was significant.  B's relationship with his mother and siblings is important and there is an opportunity for it to be preserved. The judge was  entitled to regard that as counting for more than the mother's loss of a parental responsibility that had sadly not served B well in the past.

(6) It is not enough to say that the Judge could have made a less interventionist order if the reality is that a lesser order would not adequately meet B's childhood and lifelong needs. The Judge explained why a lesser order is not good enough for B. She was fully entitled to make a placement order.

Appeal dismissed.

Case summary by Victoria Roberts, Barrister, Coram Chambers

For full case, please see BAILII