John at Family Lore has beaten me to it on this story about the Court of Appeal decision that a father should not be told about his 4 month old baby prior to adoption. I agree with what John says about the Mother having the ultimate veto over the father knowing – this goes against many decisions which emphasise the importance to a child of having links to its biological family and the increasing use of open or quasi-open adoptions. However I’m not sure I would couch it in terms of fathers rights as John does, I think the Court of Appeal are right in what they say about the non-engagement of the Father’s article 8 rights to a family life.
What interests me more is court’s interpretation of the welfare of the child – it is this that perplexes me most about the decision really. I see the point that the context is very different as between a child who has never had any meaningful link with a biological father and a child who has had some form of relationship with him which is better not severed but I’m not sure that renders the biological completely without meaning. For a child it is certainly significant – although her emotional parenting is clearly more important in many respects than whose sperm made her, its well known that in adolescence adopted children often struggle with questions of identity and seek out (for better or for worse) their biological parents. Lord Justice Thorpe seems to have in part justified the secrecy now with the fact that the child can seek out his parenting in the future, but this seems to me to miss the point, storing up emotional difficulties for later in life, and perhaps more importantly sidestepping the significance of the father as parent rather than a mere locus of identity.
The Court of Appeal has correctly based its decision on the paramount principle of the welfare of the child, saying that the priority in a case like this was the placement of the child in a permanent home as soon as possible, and (suprisingly perhaps given previous authority and received wisdom) that the court should not require a preference to be given as a matter of policy to the natural family of a child.
But who is to say that the father could not able and willing to parent this child admirably? According to the Court of Appeal: the Mother. Her view of this, given her personal circumstances, is likely to be less than impartial, and one might observe that a one night stand hardly disqualifies one from the capacity for good parenting. Its dangerous to try and judge these things in too much detail without knowing the full case details – the court will have had a wealth more information than you or I, but I can’t help thinking that from the outside looking in, this decision looks a little like the court has been swayed by the Mother’s view / interests and the Mother’s account of the likelihood of the father or extended family’s suitability. And without investigating at least to a preliminary level there is no way of knowing whether the Mother’s pessimistic view is correct or coloured by self-interest.
To say that there was no evidence the Father could meet the childs needs and that the prospect of a placement with him was too intangible to warrant a delay, as the Court of Appeal did, is to beg the question – doesn’t this child deserve to have that possibility explored? Agreed: delay is detrimental, and the younger a child is when placed the better. But to discount a father out of hand seems to me to do a disservice to the child.