For any avid Emmerdale fans, you may recognise the words: “Like I said Dawn, it’s not as simple as that. We’re looking to get a placement order. We’re looking to have Lucas adopted.” And these words will have made the soap’s character Dawn’s heart sink.
In Monday’s storyline, Dawn, a recovering drug addict who is trying to turn her life around, thought that her son Lucas would be coming home after living with foster carers. But then she learned that an adoption process had already begun.
This begs the question – what would really happen next, and where would Dawn go from here? I hope this article will help to give clarification.
Firstly, the social worker who spoke to Dawn was telling the truth when she was trying to say it is never straightforward to have a child adopted.
If I was representing Dawn, I would firstly remind her that, as the biological parent, she is automatically entitled to legal aid in Court proceedings for a Care Order. The same applies to anyone with parental responsibility for a child. Dawn should take advantage of this and get advice straight away.
In the episode, the social worker didn’t explain to Dawn that she could oppose these plans until the end of their meeting – but this is one if the first things that a good lawyer would tell Dawn. The social worker should immediately have advised Dawn to get legal advice to help her understand the process.
What is the process and what happens next? In Lucas’s case, it appears that the Local Authority will apply to Court for a Care Order under the grounds that a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, significant harm due to the parenting he or she has received.
It’s not clear what information the Local Authority will rely on to pass this ‘threshold’ – but any parent has the right to challenge the application. The burden will be on the Local Authority to prove the grounds. Dawn doesn’t have to prove a thing.
Similarly, any parent or person in the role of a parent has the right to challenge the plans for a child – in this case to place Lucas up for adoption. This would require a Placement Order. The social worker probably should have said that they would first apply for a Care Order to continue to keep Lucas in the care of foster carers – there cannot be a Placement Order unless there is a Care Order already in place.
A Court will want to ensure that there is no chance of Lucas being successfully reunited with Dawn before making any orders. If it can be proved that positive, long term changes have been made by a parent, then a Court is going to take this very seriously before making an order to stop a child cannot being returned home. Therefore, there is hope for Dawn or any other parent who has been experiencing similar difficulties.
And even if the Court makes a Care Order, it still has to go on to make the Placement Order (which approves plans for a child to be placed for adoption). This is a big decision and a Court wants to be absolutely sure that this is going to be the best thing for the child’s future life.
Perhaps you are going through something similar to Dawn. You may have been invited to a series of ‘PLO’ meetings (legal meetings before Court proceedings). If so, now is the time to seek advice. Please call me Imran Khodabocus on 01392 284 851 or 01823 785070 for appointments in our Exeter or Plymouth offices. You can also make an appointment with our experienced team in Plymouth. In some emergency situations, we will be able to grant you legal aid in your initial meeting.