Forced Adoption: We need to talk about this

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

The Latvian Intervention

I can only hope that these discussions will assist to shine a light where it is needed – and not to encourage the rhetoric and clumsy propaganda of either side of the ‘forced adoption’ debate. Because that way we are all losers, but the children most of all. 

Owen Bowcott, writing in the Guardian in March 2015, described the situation:

Latvia’s parliament has formally complained to the House of Commons that children of Latvian descent are being illegally and forcibly adopted by British families.

The extraordinary intervention by foreign MPs in the way social services take children into care comes as the Baltic state has been granted permission to give evidence during an appeal over the case of a six-year-old girl who has been removed from her mother. It is due to be heard this month.

Other eastern European countries have also raised concerns about British adoption procedures, sometimes in cases where children have been born to mothers who have been trafficked into the country for the purposes of prostitution. In one case, Nigeria also expressed concern.

The child at the centre of Latvia’s intervention was first put into care in 2012 after being found at home alone, aged 21 months. Both her parents are Latvian; her father remains in their homeland.

The mother, according to an earlier judgment, had previously been found drunk, walking barefoot with her daughter in a buggy in the middle of a road in the south London borough of Merton.

The mother disputes the local authority’s assessments and the allegation that she was inebriated; she is now challenging the adoption of her child. Her lawyers have complained that the six-year-old was put in non-Russian speaking foster care which has delayed her language development.

Challenge in the courts

The mother has made various legal challenges to every stage of the adoption process. The Judgement of one such challenge in 2013 is here. Her most recent challenge has also failed. The judgment of the Court of Appeal is here.

Of note are the conditions in which the child was discovered at paragraph 6 of the judgment. This was described by a Latvian politician speaking on the Today programme on 13th August as a ‘mistake’ made by the mother and that ‘we all make them’.

I then heard a whimpering sound from a door directly in front of me. Once I had opened the door, I saw a room. In the left-hand corner of the room was a wardrobe and there were toys all over the floor. In the right-hand corner of the room against the window was a double bed that looked very soiled. On the wall beside the bed was a large area of damp and the wallpaper was coming away. There was a very strong and overpowering smell of urine and faeces in the room. I saw the child curled in an almost foetal position on the bed lying on a pillow. She sat up when we came into the room and she was holding an empty pink bottle. I went towards the child and she stood up and came towards me. I saw that her clothes were wet and that she was wearing a nappy that was falling off between her legs. Once in a different room, I could see that the child’s clothes were wet and she was shivering. The strong smell was coming from her and it was clear that she had not been changed or cleaned all day. I removed the child’s nappy to find dried and fresh faeces. The nappy was so swollen with urine that the child was unable to walk properly. There were also dried faeces on the child’s body and her skin was soaked in urine that had leaked from her nappy and gone through her clothes.

England and Wales needs to bring itself into line?

Part of the mother’s argument was that the law in England and Wales is simply ‘out of step’ with the rest of Europe:

“Most countries in Europe do not have a policy of “forced adoption.” As they do not, then the jurisdiction of England and Wales needs to be brought further in to line with the rest of Europe.”
This is elaborated by the mother in her skeleton argument with the assertion that if this case had been heard in another European jurisdiction, then a different solution would have been found. She says that other European countries have a greater understanding of familial ties, whereas in this country, she says, too little weight is attached to the child’s biological, national, ethnic and cultural inheritance. She says that this country should consider that it may be causing or permitting too many children to be adopted, and is out of line with the rest of Europe. Whilst accepting that there is a margin of appreciation, she says that this country is so far out of step with the rest of Europe that it needs to bring itself into line. She refers to the observations of Mostyn J in Re D (Special Guardianship Order) [2014] EWHC 3388 (Fam), [2015] 2 FLR 47, para 35, and to what Holman J said in A and B v Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council [2014] EWFC 47.

The President responded to this argument at paragraph 80:

I am acutely conscious of the concerns voiced in many parts of Europe about the law and practice in England and Wales in relation to what is sometimes referred to as ‘forced adoption’ but which I prefer, and I think more accurately, to refer to as non-consensual adoption. Manifestations of these concerns are to be found both in the Borzova Report and in the letter from the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia to which I referred in paragraph 39 above. I refer also to the fact that at its meeting on 19-20 March 2014 the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament considered and declared admissible a petition by LB making allegations about the local authority’s behaviour in the present case. It would not, however, be appropriate for me to say anything more about that particular matter.
I refer in this connection to what I said in In re E (A Child) (Care Proceedings: European Dimension) Practice Note [2014] EWHC 6 (Fam), [2014] 1 WLR 2670, [2014] 2 FLR 151, paras 13-15:
“13 Leaving on one side altogether the circumstances of this particular case, there is a wider context that cannot be ignored. It is one of frequently voiced complaints that the courts of England and Wales are exorbitant in their exercise of the care jurisdiction over children from other European countries. There are specific complaints that the courts of England and Wales do not pay adequate heed to BIIR and that public authorities do not pay adequate heed to the Vienna Convention.
14 In the nature of things it is difficult to know to what extent such complaints are justified. What is clear, however, is that the number of care cases involving children from other European countries has risen sharply in recent years and that significant numbers of care cases now involve such children. It is timely therefore to draw the attention of practitioners, and indeed the courts, to certain steps which can, and I suggest from now on should, be taken with a view to ameliorating such concerns.
15 It would be idle to ignore the fact that these concerns are only exacerbated by the fact that the United Kingdom is unusual in Europe in permitting the total severance of family ties without parental consent … Thus the outcome of care proceedings in England and Wales may be that a child who is a national of another European country is adopted by an English family notwithstanding the vigorous protests of the child’s non-English parents. No doubt, from our perspective that is in the best interests of the child – indeed, unless a judge is satisfied that it really is in the child’s best interests no such order can be made. But we need to recognise that the judicial and other State authorities in some countries that are members of the European Union and parties to the BIIR regime may take a very different view and may indeed look askance at our whole approach to such cases.”

The law of England and Wales is NOT incompatible with the ECHR

But what is very clear is that the UK laws are NOT incompatible with the ECHR. The extent of the UK’s violations of the ECHR is set out in this helpful infographic from Rights Info.  It is ironic to find ourselves criticised by, for example, Slovenia –  which has the highest number of violations of fundamental rights of all members of the Council of Europe. Only 3% of cases bought to the European Court involve the UK.

The President commented at paragraph 83 of his judgment:

The second point is that, whatever the concerns that are expressed elsewhere in Europe, there can be no suggestion that, in this regard, the domestic law of England and Wales is incompatible with the United Kingdom’s international obligations or, specifically, with its obligations under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. There is nothing in the Strasbourg jurisprudence to suggest that our domestic law is, in this regard, incompatible with the Convention. For example, there is nothing in the various non-consensual adoption cases in which a challenge has been mounted, to suggest that our system is, as such, Convention non-compliant.

Sanchia Berg described the reaction of a Latvian politician:

Latvian MP Ignor Pimenov, said he found it hard to understand how a country “with high moral standards” could act in this way.
He believes this is not a unique case and said he had been contacted by several other Latvian women in the UK whose children had been taken into care.
“I can see there is something behind it… but families have been ruined,” he said.

What do we need to do?

Recent posts on this site and elsewhere have highlighted the current levels of ignorance about what actually happens here and abroad. What is not controversial is that there are children who need to be rescued from their parents and that there are state officials who either do not understand or misapply the law. The failures of the latter do not negate the need to protect children or render all parents blameless.

Do the mistakes or even deliberate malice of some individuals mean that there is a conspiracy to ‘snatch’ children from blameless, loving homes and ‘put them up’ for adoption? We have argued ‘no’. But there are many who disagree.

As a society we have an urgent need for better and more honest debate about this.

  • What support are families getting or should they be getting, to reduce the need for their children to be ‘rescued’ ?
  • When and how should the state intervene to carry out this ‘rescue’?
  • What should be the consequences when the state get it wrong? What redress could or should parents be given?

As Joshua Rozenberg commented in the Guardian:

This is not a case about whether the Latvians have been denied jurisdiction over one of their citizens. This is a case about what is in the best interests of a seven-year-old girl who was born in England and rescued from what a judge described as “appalling” neglect. Until she grows up, it must surely be better for CB to stay just where she is.

The current state of the debate, based on hyperbole, inaccuracy and massive distrust,  is unlikely to assist any process of reform, particularly not when politicians in other countries are now adding their critical voices and their refusal to accept the initial judgments of the UK courts.

There is a danger that the pendulum will swing again, back to focus on the ‘rights’ of parent, with the consequent loss of understanding or appreciation of what some children suffer. The ‘family’ is not always a haven of safety and security.

I can only hope that these discussions will assist to shine a light where it is needed – and not to encourage the rhetoric and clumsy propaganda of either side of the ‘forced adoption’ debate. Because that way we are all losers, but the children most of all.

EDIT – appeal to Supreme Court refused and Adoption Order made.

The judgment of Moylan J in October 2015 made an adoption order and brought these proceedings finally to a close. He set out at paragraph 8 the reasons why the Supreme Court had refused the mother’s application to appeal. They held her appeal had ‘no prospect of success’ commented that it relied upon the following as facts:

i. In March 2010 the mother left CB alone at home in a disgusting condition and Merton began to accommodate her. The circumstances of that incident were fully investigated by the District Judge in July 2012 who disbelieved the mother’s account. He decided that CB should be placed for adoption and that the mother’s consent be dispensed with.
ii. The mother brought two unsuccessful appeals against his orders. In the present proceedings the mother is not entitled to challenge the District Judge’s findings nor, by her addendum ground, the conclusion in the second appeal that Merton had been entitled to hold the adoption panel meeting on 9th March 2012.
iii. In view of her contentions that Merton was trying to meet a higher target for adoptions and was therefore “biased”, the mother should note that it was the court, not Merton, which took the decision to authorise the placement of CB for adoption.
iv. In May 2013, following the dismissal of the second appeal, CB was placed with the prospective adopters. So she has lived with them for almost 2½ years. She last saw the mother in March 2013.
v. The adopters would have understood that the path to CB’s adoption was clear. Instead there has been a prolonged challenge to her placement with them, supported with all the authority of the Latvian State. The pressure to date on the adopters, and indirectly on CB, is obvious.
vi. Moylan J accepted evidence that CB was at risk of significant emotional harm if removed from the adopters. It is not arguable that it would be in her interests to be removed from them at this late stage and to be placed wherever the Latvian Court might direct.
vii. The loss of CB’s national and cultural identity is a substantial factor and was rightly weighed by Moylan J. He held however that it was outweighed by other aspects of her welfare and this court would not disturb his assessment.

13 thoughts on “Forced Adoption: We need to talk about this

  1. C

    One is left with little choice but ‘rhetoric and clumsy propaganda’ when to mention anything about specific cases would place one in contempt. I know some very clear examples of where the UK most definitely does not consider ‘the best interests of the child’ as paramount; it is overshadowed entirely by Social Services and the courts desire to be proved right – whatever the cost to the child.
    But I can’t speak about them.
    Only a few days ago I contacted NYAS to urge them to consider evidence less than two years old, and there is a lot of it, and to speak to the child before briefing against her in what they persist on calling ‘her best interests’. I was assured, by CEO Christine Renouf that I would be ignored because I was not party to the case. She had no problem in stating that the child’s best interests were incompatible with her wishes and feelings, without anyone at NYAS having spoken to the child or having reviewed any recent evidence.

    Christine Renouf, as well as being CEO of NYAS presently, is also Chair of the NSPCC. She is about to move on to another high profile job yet her attitude to the plight of children, supposedly under her care seems calloused by her experience as a bureaucrat. Her allegiance is to the system not the children suffering within it.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I appreciate that there are enormous difficulties in conducting a healthy and honest debate when we are hidebound by rules of confidentiality – some with merit, some with much less so.

      that is why I am campaigning against unnecessary restrictions that stifle an entirely necessary debate.

      But this case we CAN talk about because there are at least three comprehensive judgments in the public domain. Despite the clear evidence about how this child was found by the police, I am still left fielding comments from some that the police must have lied.

      For goodness sake. Denial, obfuscation and delusion don’t help anyone, whether they are arguing for or against the current system.

  2. catherine spink-white LLB DipLp

    No one has ventured to raise the question of money. Money that is made by the LAs for every adoption . This money comes from the government. Social workers earn bonuses for every child taken into so called care.
    If indeed a child was left alone in the situation referred to, why was video evidence not forth coming ? We live in an age of technology. Are the Courts to take the evidence of a paid lackey ? It has been proven the LAs will provide private psychological reports to have the parent discredited. This has been proven. The children in question , that is any child taken into care and separated from their family will be emotionally harmed. Yet a child can be snatched from parents because of…..future emotional harm.! So let’s make this clear, no harm has happened but a child can be removed . Money is the main cause of the rising number of children being taken by social workers. Their powers are corrupted by them with the approval of all those who benefit , those would be , the LAs. Social workers. Foster agencies and last but not least adoption agencies. So if there is to be a frank discussion about forced adoption. Let us have one.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      You have raised the issue of money. It has been answered. If you wish to refresh your memory then refer to this post.

      I have no idea why video evidence was not forthcoming. Presumably because the Judge thought the evidence from the landlord, the police, medical professionals etc, etc, etc who directly witnessed the harm caused to the child was sufficient.

      If your point is that only video evidence is acceptable, then make that point, campaign for it. Do something useful.

      Instead you continue to spout your tedious conspiracy theory nonsense and even my legendary patience becomes thin. If you continue in this vein you are not part of the solution – you are part of the problem.

      and I will delete any further comments from you which are simply repetitious and partial.

  3. Kate Wells

    Oh Catherine I see you are a fully paid up member of the Conspiracy Theorists Forced Adoption Club, and spouting the same nonsense as Hemming, Booker, and Josephs. You can put LLB after your name, but I for one don’t believe you have a law degree at all – or maybe you got a third!

    This nonsense about social workers getting paid a bonus for getting children adopted is utterly absurd. You are clearly not following the political agenda as you seem unaware the this govt is cutting the budgets of all public services, to the extent that many are unable to carry out their statutory responsibilities.

    I think you are a disgruntled parent posing as a law graduate – there’s a conspiracy theory for you……and I agree with Sarah, that it is pointless for people like you to keep trotting out the same tired old arguments that we hear time and time again. I look forward to not seeing any more of your posts!

  4. ian josephs

    I can only repeat that Judges often ridicule hapless parents in court by asking them “Do you really think the social worker,the guardian,the expert,and the judge are all in a conspiracy to take your child?” Well for once I agree with Sarah ;there is no conspiracy because there is no need for one! What then is happening? Well “birds of a Feather flock together” or put another way “those who make a good living (or in some cases a huge profit) out of the system naturally protect that system. When our wonderful MPs fiddled their expenses nobody suggested that over 600 of them got together to work out how best to cheat the system ! No conspiracy there either.What was it then? It was each for him/her self .Individual “snouts in the trough” and so it is in our family court system for social workers,judges,guardians,experts, camp followers etc and to hell with the consequences for parents and their unfortunate children caught in the net. – See more at:

  5. Pingback: Proportionality and Article 8 of the ECHR | Child Protection Resource

  6. Winston Smith

    I’m sorry Sarah, but you believe Forced Adoption is a good thing, the adoptions without parents consent are all justified and those opposing it are attacked.

    We will now discuss what is wrong with Forced Adoption and how it came to the UK and not the rest of Europe.

    Forced Adoption is a Racket in the American sense and Trafficking and Trafficking in children. This is because it exists to meet the needs of the powerful adoption industry and supply couples with children to adopt. This is because it originated when adoption was being promoted as the thing to do , but there were no children available for adoption. The idea was this could be met by adopting from Care.
    Inevitably the most attractive – blond hair, blue eyes and babies or younger kids are the most attractive goods to meet the demands of the market.

    So if such kids found themselves inCare for silly reasons they now would be classified as suitable for adoption.

    It has gone onever since,getting worse with each beat-up.

    But heap big problem.

    It has been seen by its supporters as Marvellous, as these Wonderful homes , working class kids transferred to upper-middle class homes and ending up with a professional career. How could your refuse?

    The problem is the high failure rate of Forced Adoptions. This isn’t supposed to happen as ideologically they are the Forever Family and permanency. This is found to be 25-30 %

    Also there are problems with the behaviour of the Forced Adopted kids.

    More on the reasons for a l this in the next post.

    Just dealing with one tonight – mother threatened with having baby taken intoCare at birth, on menta lhealth condition announced by social workers.
    But the long concealed statistics show a 25-30%

    So Alsonice middle class kids and not those fromdrggys and sinkestates.


    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I’m sorry Sarah, but you believe Forced Adoption is a good thing, the adoptions without parents consent are all justified and those opposing it are attacked

      That is so clearly NOT what I believe. And I have spent nearly two years and many posts saying that. If you are so determined to attach these views to me, either you are dishonest in the way you debate, or your reading comprehension levels are so low that any further discussion between us is futile.

  7. Winston Smith

    I’m sorry to hear that, Sarah. perhaps you could say exactly what you believe and what changes you think should be made to the system.

    1. Sarah Phillimore

      Read my many posts on this site where I set out my criticisms and suggestions for change in detail.

      See posts about Finnish system for examples of change. Also posts about help to be a better parent. see discussions about the Conference on June 1st. Etc, etc, etc.

  8. Anonymous

    I’m sorry but I have been a first hand witness of social workers pulling fictional stories out of their backsides in order to get the results that they want. After reading this do you simply want me to forget or try to justify and rationalize away what I witnessed right in front of me? Because what happened was clearly not just a simple misunderstanding. The first social worker handling the case literally added her own fictional accounts to the court application and she gave them in her evidence. If a social worker, you know, a professional that is qualified to protect children, is actually concerned about a child, then why would they need to make things up in order to have that child removed? Would a true account of their concerns not be enough to convince a judge? I am skeptical, as skeptical as it gets. I don’t believe anything until I see actual evidence, and I have seen concrete evidence that social workers can and do deliberately lie and falsefy reports. I’m not going to go into detail about the case, because I don’t wish to identify the family that were involved in this mess, let’s just say they got their child back in the end, after a long nasty process in proving themselves innocent. The next social worker involved in the case also deliberately put any assessment of the families parenting capabilities on hold for many months because she wanted a particular outcome. The judge had to grant one in the end with the social worker and their solicitor on their knees because he even said that it wasn’t in the best interests of the child to have waited so long. The parents had enough resources to fight. How many families have been the target of these shanangans and have not had the money to fight and lost and how often does this happen? Why were these lies even being told in the first place? I’m sorry but you either live in fairyland or you have an ulterior motive trying to convince people with this website that this simply just doesn’t happen. There are some serious questions that need to be answered. I will be surprised if you even decide to publish my comment.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I will publish this comment, but there is no need for insults.
      I don’t live in ‘fairy land’ – just because I disagree with you doesn’t make me an idiot.

      I am sorry to hear that you have experienced what you describe. I don’t say it doesn’t happen. But I say it is not common. The reason I say that is neither I nor anyone else I work with has experienced deliberate dishonesty more than a handful of times in decades.

      that is still too many times. It should not happen at all.

      But I do not accept it is common place. Because that is NOT supported by the evidence I have.

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