Northern Ireland

Former drug abuser's baby to stay with foster parents

A judge has ruled that the daughter of a former teenage drug abuser should live with her foster parents despite "remarkable progress" by her mother.

The child, who cannot be named, was placed into foster care with a couple now aged in their 60s two days after her mother gave birth to her aged 17.

The girl's mother decided in September 2009 she should be returned to her due to the substantial changes in her life.

But Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said she should not be moved.

He ruled in favour of the foster parents who sought a residence order for the five-year-old girl they have cared for since birth.

"If I were to make an order, the effect of which would be to change this child's placement, I consider that I would be taking an unreasonable and unjustifiable risk with this child's emotional stability," the judge said.

"I recognise that the provision of long-term good quality contact cannot be a substitute for the relationships which this child might attain with her birth mother and half siblings if she lived with them, but the potential benefit is in my view considerably outweighed by the real risks to this child's welfare if she is moved."

The relevant health trust has also now withdrawn a medical objection brought on the basis of the foster father's diabetes.

Setting out the history of the case, the judge told the High Court how the girl's mother decided in September 2009 that she should be returned to her due to the substantial changes in her lifestyle.

She was in a stable relationship, had given birth to two more children, matured and could count on a support network which included her partner's family and local church.

In his ruling, Sir Declan recognised how the child's mother and her partner have "provided a caring and loving environment for their two children and have developed excellent parenting skills".

But after considering two expert opinions, he pointed to the risk, however slight, that the girl may suffer psychological damage if a change of placement broke down.

With her welfare his paramount concern, Sir Declan said: "I accept the views of both experts that it would be beneficial to this child to develop relationships with her half siblings and both sets of parents will, in my view, always be important people in this child's life."

However, on the basis that the foster parents pursue an adoption application and show commitment to continued meaningful contact with the child's birth mother and family, the judge added: "I will in due course discharge the care order and make a residence order in their favour."