A High Court judge has cleared the way for the adoption of a Northern Ireland toddler whose parents are a teenage brother and sister.
Mr Justice O’Hara ruled that the agreement of the two-year-old boy’s mother to a freeing order can be dispensed with because she is incapable of giving consent.
His verdict came in a case involving family circumstances described as “depressing” and “hugely unsatisfactory”.
The little boy, referred to as J, was born in 2012.
His mother, a schoolgirl identified only as A, was 13 when she became pregnant while his father, Z, was 15 at the time.
Despite being disputed by Z, DNA testing proved J is his son.
Both A and her son were taken into care – in different settings – within months of the birth.
With no suitable family arrangements available, J has since been placed with another couple.
The trust involved in the case sought a freeing order on the basis that it is in J’s bests interests to be adopted – a view the judge held to be clearly correct.
Although the child’s father took little part in the proceedings, Mr Justice O’Hara had to decide whether the mother’s agreement should be dispensed with because she is incapable of giving consent or whether she is unreasonably withholding consent.
Now aged 16, the court heard A has had an “exceptionally difficult life” with recurring social services involvement due to a variety of concerns about her, her siblings and her mother and step-father.
“None of this is A’s fault – she is a victim of the way in which she was raised,” the judge said.
“It is hard to identify any positive life experience which she has enjoyed.”
An educational psychologist’s report on her mathematical ability found only three per cent of pupils the same age would have scored the same or lower on a numerical operations test and just 16 per cent on reasoning.
She produced stronger results on reading and spelling abilities.
With staff at her children’s home categorising her as “a very vulnerable young girl”, the judge also detailed a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist’s report which “sets out in grim detail how miserable A’s life has been”.
The expert stated: “A is not in a position to fully understand the possible consequences of the various decisions which have to be made for herself and for J.
“A’s reluctance to fully engage in the assessment process is one manifestation of this but the history and her responses during interviews have also informed my opinion in this regard.”
Based on her reports Mr Justice O’Hara ruled that the mother is not competent to make a decision on whether J should be adopted.
In a judgement made public last week he said: “A is undoubtedly capable of making some decisions as is shown by some elements of the psychological assessment, but not a decision which is of a magnitude and which has the consequences of the present one.
“It appears to me that this finding on her competence undermines the proposition that she can be properly regarded as unreasonably withholding her agreement to adoption.”
The judge confirmed: “I am satisfied that the agreement of A to the making of an adoption order for J should be dispensed with because A is incapable of giving her agreement.”