Gemma Kelly represented the Maternal Aunt in this case before Mrs Justice Theis. The children had been placed for adoption in November 2016, but without any investigation whatsoever of a kinship placement with the Aunt. The children moved to live with prospective adopters in April 2017. Before the Court was the parents’ application for leave to oppose the making of an adoption order, the Aunt's application for leave to apply for an SGO, and the prospective adopters’ application for an adoption order. The Aunt was positively assessed within the proceedings and all parties agreed that the children would have been placed with her if she had been investigated during the care proceedings. However, a move within the adoption proceedings was opposed by the Local Authority and Guardian on the basis of the children’s attachments with the prospective adopters, and the risk of harm if they were removed from their care at such a late stage.
Then, during the proceedings, a serious data breach took place when the Local Authority sent the birth parents the confidential details of the prospective adopters. This resulted in the prospective adopters and children immediately uprooting their lives and having to move to a confidential location.
Ultimately, the Judge decided the children should be made the subjects of an adoption order, but she was extremely impressed by the Aunt in her evidence.
The Court offers clear guidance in respect of a Local Authority’s duty to assess family members even if they are not put forward by birth parents:
"What this case has highlighted is the critical importance of a local authority having effective systems in place from an early stage in care proceedings to ensure that the wider maternal/paternal families are considered as possible placement options for the children. Whilst it is recognised that the parents should put forward any names they want to be considered, that does not absolve the local authority of the enquiries they should independently be making. The continued retort by the local authority that the parents had failed to put anyone forward failed to recognise these are parents who failed to provide the basic care for their children or provide basic co-operation within the care proceedings, this local authority should have undertaken their own enquiries. What is of such concern in this case is that an older half-sister of the children was already placed with a maternal aunt. There is simply no evidence of this local authority even considering this obvious placement possibility or that aunt being a source of wider family information."
It is also of interest to see the order in which Theis decided to deal with the competing applications (and leave stages), as this was debated extensively during submissions.
The case has been the subject of national press coverage, primarily in respect of the significant data breach.View Judgment Here