Court of Appeal Upholds Placement Order Revocation Decision in N (Children) Case, Emphasizing Children's Welfare

Citation: [2023] EWCA Civ 1352
Judgment on

Introduction

In the recent judgment of N (Children: Revocation of Placement Orders) [2023] EWCA Civ 1352, the Court of Appeal examined the standards and principles applied when considering an application to revoke placement orders related to the adoption of children. The appeal by the mother against the dismissal of her application by the Family Court at Milton Keynes brings into focus, inter alia, the critical issue of assessing whether a sufficient change in circumstances has occurred and what considerations must prevail in the best interests of the child.

Key Facts

The case concerns two children, a girl aged 7 and a boy aged 5, who had been subject to placement orders following findings of domestic abuse by the father and failure of protection by the mother. Despite improvements in the mother’s personal circumstances and her separation from the father, the local authority and the Children’s Guardian opposed the mother’s application to revoke the placement orders. The children, on the cusp of adoption, had begun introductions to prospective adopters and were unaware of the mother’s application, causing confusion about their future home.

Recorder Newport found the mother unable to meet the children’s needs despite her “considerable efforts” and determined that the welfare decision to be made did not endorse the abandonment of a two-year-in-the-making plan for adoption. The mother’s appeal brought before LORD JUSTICE PETER JACKSON, LORD JUSTICE BAKER, and LADY JUSTICE ANDREWS, presented a challenge against the original decision, particularly focusing on the need for additional assessment and the application of legal principles to the case.

The judgment elucidates several principles within the context of revocation of placement orders under the Adoption and Children Act 2002. The court must conduct a welfare decision under section 1 of the Act, assessing if it is in the child’s interests to revoke the placement order. The decision-making process involves the court applying the stringent conditions that justify the original placement order, as outlined in Re C (Children) (Placement Order: Revocation) [2020] EWCA Civ 1598.

Recorder’s judgment notably rested on the rejection of an adjournment for further assessment by an Independent Social Worker (ISW), which the mother requested. It was determined that the existing evidence was comprehensive and that further assessment would introduce undue delay and uncertainty for the children, an approach aligning with the considerations expressed in Re H (Children: Placement Orders) [2023] EWCA Civ 1245 regarding the urgency of providing skilled parenting and stable placement for the children.

The legal burden of proof lies with the applying parent, compelling them to demonstrate that maintaining the placement order is not in the child’s best interests. The court’s task is an impartial review of evidence centered on the welfare of the children at the time of the hearing, rather than events preceding the placement order.

Outcomes

The Court of Appeal upheld Recorder Newport’s decision. The judgment found that the recorder had conducted a thorough welfare assessment, rightly identifying the mother’s inability to meet the children’s emotional needs and the associated risks which their return would entail. The recorder’s refusal to adjourn the proceedings for additional assessment was endorsed, recognizing the comprehensive evidence and testimony presented.

The appeal was dismissed on all four grounds. The court underscored the importance of the welfare of the children and the necessity of avoiding further delay in their search for a permanent home.

Conclusion

The judgment in N (Children: Revocation of Placement Orders) reaffirms the paramountcy principle of prioritizing the children’s welfare in adoption proceedings and applications for revocation of placement orders. The Court of Appeal’s decision reflects a careful balance between recognizing the progress made by a parent and attending to the urgent need for stable and permanent family placements for the children involved. It serves as a reminder of the significant threshold for revocation and directs attention to the rigour of evidence required to substantiate a material change in circumstances under the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

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