Mother wins right to exclude her family from care proceedings

A woman who was adopted at the age of six has won the right to exclude her birth family from care proceedings concerning her daughter.

The case involved a mother aged 19. Her relationship with her adoptive parents had been successful at first but began to break down when she was 13. She then made contact with her birth mother.

After her daughter was born, she took the baby to see her birth family. During the visit, the baby fell out of her pram and sustained a fractured skull. Neither the mother nor her birth family sought immediate medical attention.

An investigation under the Children Act 1989 was initiated, and the daughter was made subject to a child protection plan. Proceedings were issued, and the mother was assessed by the local authority for her capacity to care for the child. The assessment was cautiously positive.

The local authority gave notice of its plan for the baby to return to the mother’s care in a highly supported community setting. It then issued an application under the Family Procedure Rules 2010, for the court to determine whether the authority should elicit the views of the mother’s birth family about plans for the child’s future and if relevant, assess them.

The mother strongly objected to the birth family being assessed.

The Family Court found in her favour. It held that a local authority was under no obligation to assess an adopted mother’s birth family in care proceedings.

Assessing the birth family would likely have a damaging effect on the mother’s fragile mental health, at a critical time when she herself was being assessed as a long-term carer for her daughter.

The mother’s birth family were her original family, but were not her current family, and nor were they her “relatives” under the 1989 Act. In that respect, their status in relation to the child was materially different from the status of extended or wider family.

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