This is a case where the natural father has lost his parental rights over his child. The Court has allowed the foster parents to adopt his child. In gist, the child was placed in the foster care by the Child Protective Services (CPS) about a month after the child was born.
The natural parents were unable to care for the child due to their respective incarcerations. While the natural mother has chosen to cease contact with the child, the natural father had supervised visitation to the child. This is in hope that there will be eventual unification between the natural father and the child.
It is trite that in all cases where children are involved, the paramount consideration is the welfare of the child. Bearing this in mind, the Court also considered section 4(4) of the Adoption of Children Act. It was of the view that in this case, section 4(4)(c) of the Act applies. This particular section gives the Court a wide power to dispense the consent of the natural parents by forming an opinion if consent of the natural father should be dispensed with (after considering all the circumstances).
In this case, the Court noted that the natural father unfortunately fell back into his old ways. This is notwithstanding that supervised visitation to the child was arranged. He also defaulted on 29 out of 48 visitation sessions without notice or cited work commitments. He also did not have a very strong support system to assist him in the care of the child. Additionally, the child expressed its wishes to be with the foster family “forever”.
To my mind, this judgment raises questions for us to consider.
The primacy of a natural parent has always been recognised. Parents are afforded an exalted position both in law and culture. Of course, there will always be the errant parent whose care (or lack thereof) of the child will attract the highest level of censure – that the child be adopted by someone else better fit to care for the child.
But where is the line crossed? It is easy to suggest that abusive parents should have little to no say in such scenarios. It is an altogether different question when it comes to a parent who, despite various faults, remains committed to retaining at least some sort of positive relationship with a child.
Parents are human beings, and we are by nature imperfect. This much is axiomatic. But how much imperfection should weigh on the Court’s mind before judicial intervention is necessary? Much as we do not judge the father or mother next door who may not be around as much as he should, should the Court act to sever the last of all parental ties despite the parent having shown at least some interest in a relationship with the child?
My personal opinion of the matter is that the Court should be very slow to do so. Why? This is because there are alternative ways through which the Court can ensure that a child is well-looked after.
For one and most importantly, the Court has the power to instead grant custody orders under the Guardianship of the Infants Act. This effectively allows the guardians to control the aspects of the child’s lives that a biological parent may perhaps be ill-equipped to. Yet, the beauty of this solution is that it does not impact the parental bond; a custody order can be made without severing the relationship entirely. In stark contrast, an adoption order (both in form and function) effectively reduces the relationship to dust.
Whatever the case may be, it should be a running thread of therapeutic justice that proper familial relationships should be preserved whenever possible. I therefore find myself discomforted by the judgment.
My discomfort is perhaps worsened by my knowledge of at least one other parent who has been approached with a request to allow adoption of his/her child. This is notwithstanding that custody orders have already been made which cover the child till the age of majority. I beg to understand: what is so deplorable about the biological parent that relationship must be torn asunder?
I wonder if this judgment will set a precedent for more of such adoption orders to be sought. In my view, such applications ought to be scrutinised with the greatest of circumspection and only allowed when there is naught else that can be done for the child's best interests.