Justice Pauffley doesn’t always get it right, but we’re excited to see judges disrupting outdated and unhelpful child welfare mantras in order to place the best interests of children first. And that is exactly what this judge did when she overturned an adoption order recently.
Overturning an adoption order is fiendishly difficult and frowned upon, both in law and policy. The idea is that a child needs permanence in order to flourish and that sentiment tends to override every other consideration – sometimes at the expense of the very thing it deigns to protect: the child.
The fate of the Webster family and their children has become folklore in Family circles – evidence proving that they had not harmed their children was set aside, because ‘policy’ decreed that adoption orders were final. You can understand that kind of overly simplistic thinking taking place in the 1900’s, but not in the 21st century: we now know that children need more than just a place to call home and familiar faces to develop into healthy, happy adults.
In this case, which Justice Pauffley describes as ‘highly exceptional’ (aren’t they all, or is this statement just self-defence in a world where challenging norms is a dangerous pastime?) a 14-year-old girl was allowed to return to her biological family after being adopted and then subsequently abandoned by her adoptive parents, who sent her to live with extended family, where she was badly abused. The adoption order, which was made more than ten years ago, has now been overturned.
What is even more startling about this case is that the biological family have now been deemed fit to care for her – no background is given as to the circumstances in which she was removed in the first place, nor whether the original assessment which saw the young girl being taken into care and adopted, was accurate.
However, for going against the grain, and showing absolute courage, Mrs Justice Pauffley is our Judge of the Week.