One of the hardest tasks that family judges have to undertake is to remove children from the care of parents who are incapable of looking after them. However, as one case showed, adoption of children outside their natural families is only ever a last resort and there is always the possibility of redemption.
The case concerned a 14-month-old girl whose mother had been an alcoholic since she was in her teens. Having lived largely in care during her childhood, the mother had appeared before criminal courts for offences fuelled by her addiction. There had been extensive social services involvement in relation to her parenting of her older daughter.
The girl had spent her entire life in foster care after the local authority removed her from her mother immediately after her birth. The council was subsequently granted a full care order in respect of her and a judge directed her placement for adoption. Those orders were, however, later overturned by the Court of Appeal.
In considering the matter afresh, a different judge noted the mother's committed and independent engagement with Alcoholics Anonymous and that she had been sober for almost two years. She had a strong family support network and the evidence established that, when sober, she could be an excellent mother.
The judge noted that severing ties between the girl, her mother and her wider family would be a great loss to her. The mother had shown increasing insight into the impact of her drinking on her child and, although there could be no guarantees, the prognosis was good if she managed to avoid alcohol for five years.
Ordering the girl's rehabilitation to her mother's care, subject to a supervision order, the judge found that the risks involved in that course were outweighed by the benefit to the girl of being brought up within her natural family.