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Judge’s Comments Raise Concerns Over Care and Adoption Proceedings

Judge’s Comments Raise Concerns Over Care and Adoption Proceedings

New adoption figures published by the Department for Education at the beginning of this week show that 5,050 children were adopted by new families in the 12 months to March 31st 2014 – up 26% from the previous year. However, there has also been a fall in the number of placement orders from local authorities, where a court decides if adoption is, in principle, in the child’s best interests – a fall that could be linked to statements made in a case last year by Sir James Munby, the president of the High Court’s Family Division.

Sir James’ comments were made in a ruling known as Re B-S, where a mother appealed against a court’s refusal to allow her to oppose the adoption of her children. The judge criticised the “sloppy practice” of social workers in adoption cases, and said that social services must provide “proper evidence” that all alternatives to adoption had been considered before bringing a case to court.

He said: “We have real concerns, shared by other judges, about the recurrent inadequacy of the analysis and reasoning put forward in support of the case for adoption, both in the materials put before the court by local authorities and guardians and also in too many judgments. This is nothing new. But it is time to call a halt”. He also criticised judges in the lower courts for failing to produce “adequately reasoned argument”.

The mother in Re B-S ultimately lost the appeal – and with it, custody of her children – although her barrister suggested afterwards that the court had not fully addressed all of her arguments.

Local authorities reluctant to issue placement orders

Mark Owers, chief executive of the Consortium for Voluntary Adoption Agencies (CVAA), is in no doubt that Sir James’ comments have had an effect on the willingness of local authorities to pursue the option of adoption for children in their care; he claims that the fall in agency decisions in favour of adoption is “a direct result of Re B-S and other similar cases”. Although councils cannot argue that against an intervention on expense grounds, with a 30% cut in their preventive services grant it is perhaps inevitable that “borderline” cases may not be nodded through.

John Simmonds, policy director at the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), agrees with this assessment, adding “We do need a confident, clear, coherent structure to make this work within the child’s time frame”. At present, care proceedings are required to be completed within 26 weeks – a timeframe described by Sir James as “inflexible” when “the stakes for all are too high”.

Minister for Children: “There is more to be done”

Of the rise in the number of children being adopted, Minister for Children and Families Edward Timpson said “It’s great to see that the number of children adopted from care has risen to the highest level yet”. He added: “However, we refuse to be complacent and we know there is more to be done”.

On Sir James’ comments in the Re B-S case, he said that the Adoption Leadership Board, which includes senior representatives of England’s adoption organisations, including the CVAA and BAAF, would shortly be issuing new guidance to local authorities reminding them of their obligations under the law.

Legal advice on care proccedings, custody and adoption

Our specialist child welfare solicitors are trained to deal with all aspects of the Children Act 1989 and Adoption and Children Act 2002, and have extensive experience in representing children either directly or through a Children’s Guardian. We also represent family members in Care and Adoption proceedings, particularly where Social Services or Child Protection Officers are involved.

If a local authority has issued care proceedings in relation to your children you are entitled to free legal advice. If your finances are limited you may also qualify for Legal Aid. Find out more by going to our legal aid solicitors page.

If your family is undergoing a difficult child custody case, or you need representation for Care and Adoption proceedings, we can help.

Contact us in confidence on 01895 207857, or email us at childcare@ibblaw.co.uk