Gloucestershire adoption case gave judge 'immense anxiety'

Social services in Gloucestershire has been accused of "institutional failure" by a senior judge for its handling of the adoption of a four-year-old girl.

Stephen Wildblood QC said the case had taken more than two years to resolve and revealed "multiple failures".

Gloucestershire County Council became involved with the family owing to violence between the parents, child neglect and substance misuse.

The authority said it always puts the child's best interests first.

'Emotional harm'

Judge Wildblood said both parents - who are now separated - opposed the application and wanted her to live with her father, although he believed the father could not meet her "emotional needs" and would expose her "to the significant risk of emotional harm through neglect" among other things.

He said the authority had not investigated long-term fostering and said he had "absolutely no confidence" the council would take "any effective steps" to support family relationships if she was placed for adoption.

In conclusion, the judge wrote: "This case has caused me immense anxiety. It is the most extreme example of institutional failure that I can remember. I have given it a lot of thought."

He dismissed the application for the adoption placement order and ordered the child to stay in foster care and retain contact with her natural family.

The series of criticisms was included in a written ruling following a hearing at a family court in Bristol earlier this week.

Kathy O'Mahony, director of children's safeguarding and care at the council, said: "This child has been in our care for some time after suffering neglect in her parents' care and our professional judgement was that adoption would give her the stable and caring family life she needs.

"Whilst very disappointed, we respect Judge Wildblood's decision.

"Judge Wildblood has repeatedly praised Gloucestershire Children's Services over the past nine months for the high quality of the court proceedings work and we take this criticism very seriously.

"I have asked for a comprehensive investigation into this case, including the role of other agencies and previous court decisions, to help ensure the best future for this child."

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