Tag Archives: adoption

I don’t want my child to be adopted

What can I do?

it will depend at what stage of the proceedings you have reached and what orders have already been made. A child can only be adopted when three orders have been made – a care order, a placement order and finally, an adoption order. Care and placement orders are usually made at the same time.

  • A care order allows the State to decide where your child should live and who spends time with him or her.
  • A placement order allows the State to put your child with a family that may decide to adopt him or her.
  • An adoption order confirms that this family is now the legal family and the birth parents no longer have any legal connection to their child.

So which situation are you in? This post will discuss only the LAST TWO. If you want to challenge a care order – see this post.

  • Parents are currently in care proceedings and no final order has been made It is really important that parents argue their case in the care proceedings while they are happening – you need to engage with the case against you at the time as it may be too late to do anything to change the situation once a care order is made.
  • Final care order made but no placement order. If a placement order hasn’t been made yet, you may be able to appeal against the care order or apply to discharge it.
  • Final care order and placement order made – Parents can apply for leave to revoke a placement order under section 24 of the ACA 2002, IF:
    • their child hasn’t yet been placed for adoption; and
    • they can show a ‘change of circumstances’ since the placement order was made.
    • The form to make an application to revoke a placement order is here. 
  • Potential adoptive parents have applied for an adoption order – Parents can apply for permission to contest the making of an adoption order under section 47(7) of the ACA 2002 but only if they can show a ‘change of circumstances’.
  • The adoption order has been made – can I overturn it? – this is rare but possible. See discussion below.

 

 

 

 

Challenging an application for an adoption order

Don’t waste time

Remember – UK law is compatible with the ECHR

It is always better to make your challenges and objections during the care proceedings. It is essential to challenge a care order as soon as possible if you do not consider it was validly made – it is too late to wait until the time that applications are made to apply for adoption.

Don’t waste time arguing that UK law is not compliant with international law. In the case of G (A Child) [2017] EWCA Civ 2638 (08 November 2017) the father wanted the court to declare that the Adoption and Children Act 2002 was not compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court of Appeal referred to Re CB (A Child) (No. 2) (Adoption Proceedings: Vienna Convention) [2016] 1 FLR 1286 in which Sir James Munby President said at paragraph 83:

“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 UK’s international obligations or, specifically, with its obligations under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950. There is nothing in the Strasburg 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.”

 

If you are arguing about the care proceedings when faced with adoption order – you’ve already lost

There is a useful and clear discussion about the process in the case of A and F (children) [2015] where a mother argued that her children should not be adopted but this argument was based on an assertion that the care orders should not have been made in the first place. Therefore, she did not accept that any criticism could be made of her parenting and she was unable to engage with the essential steps to challenge her children’s adoption – that she must show ‘a change of circumstances’

As the Judge commented at para 26 of his judgment:

Indeed, the majority of the mother’s statement is concerned with the repetition and correction of perceived past wrongs sustained by her. This was also the position with regard to her oral submissions. This means that inevitably she does not accept as a “starting point” District Judge Shaw’s decision nor his findings. As a matter of logic, therefore, she finds it impossible to address the issue of “changes in circumstances” because broadly her parenting circumstances, when the children were removed, were perfectly acceptable and therefore no change is required. Accordingly, an intellectual impasse results.

So what do you have to do?

  • Step One: establish a change of circumstances. The court has already decided by making a final care order that the parent has caused or is likely to cause a child significant harm. Therefore the parent must show the court what is different NOW. This is discussed in more detail below;
  • Step Two: convince the court it is right to give permission to argue against an adoption order being made.  This means that the court will look at all the relevant issues in the case and think about what the impact would be on the children. The children’s welfare is the most important consideration for the court. If the parent doesn’t succeed in getting permission, the matter ends there.
  • Step Three: Persuade the court to refuse an adoption order IF a parent is given permission to argue against the making of an adoption order, they will have to persuade the court to reverse the direction in which the children’s lives have travelled since the Care and Placement proceedings. Obviously, the longer the children have been in their potential adoptive placement, the harder this will be.

Although the courts try to separate out the different questions, to make it easier to analyse the issues, it is clear that each question has the potential to be significantly wrapped up in the other questions. For example, the ‘prospect of success’ the court is looking at refers to your prospect of success in challenging the order, NOT your prospects of success in getting your child home.

However, if you have very little chance of persuading the court that the child should come home, that issue is certainly going to be on the court’s mind. It is very difficult to successfully challenge placement or adoption orders,  as by the time such challenge is made the child has been living away from the parents for many months, even years and the court is going be worried about the impact on the child of possibly another move from a home where they may now be settled.

In Re L [2014] 2FLR 913 at paragraph 45, Lady Justice Black said this:

“When a judge considers a parent’s prospect of success for the purposes of section 47(5), he is doing the best he can to forecast what decision the judge hearing the adoption application is going to make having the child’s welfare throughout his life as his paramount consideration. What is ultimately going to be relevant to the decision whether to grant the adoption order or not must therefore also be material at the leave stage.”

STEP ONE – what does ‘change in circumstances’ mean?

It’s a matter of fact and it has to be relevant. Case law gives us the following principles :

  • The test should not be so difficult that it rules everyone out – parents shouldn’t be discouraged from trying to improve their lives.
  • The changes must be relevant to the question of whether or not leave should be granted – for e.g. if the worry was originally that you drink too much, have you stopped or cut down?
  • The changes are not confined to those of a birth parent, but they may include changes occurring in the child’s life (see Re T [2014] EWCA (Civ) 1369).
  • The necessary change in circumstances … does not have to be “significant”; the question is whether it is “of a nature and degree sufficient, on the facts of the particular case, to open the door to the exercise of the judicial discretion to permit the parents to defend the adoption proceedings”: Re P (Adoption: Leave Provisions) [2007] EWCA 616, [2007] para 30 – discussed in Re T [2014] in context of applying to revoke a placement order.

There is a useful article here by suesspiciousminds which considers the relevant case law in this area, and in particular the case of The Borough of Poole v W [2014] EWHC 1777. The Judge concluded at paragraph 25 of his judgement that the parents could not succeed, despite making considerable changes to their lives:

I have considered this case with the most anxious care, considering how much is at stake, both for parents and prospective adopters who happily all have a real understanding of each other’s predicaments. However, above all what is at stake for SR? There can be no blame attached to any of the four adults for why we have all ended up where we have. Nevertheless, a decision of profound significance has to be made. In the end, I have reached a clear conclusion that there is only one route which will sufficiently safeguard the welfare of SR and that is the route of adoption.

My real concerns about SR’s ability to survive the process of rehabilitation and the parents’ ability to sustain her care, whatever her reactions throughout her childhood, when seen in the context of their fragility and of the consequences to SR of a failure of rehabilitation and the need to then start all over again. All those matters when drawn together, in my judgment, require that adoption be provided as the way of securing her welfare and therefore require that the court dispenses with the parents’ consent. In making the order which, in my judgment, promotes the welfare of SR, I fully recognise the grief of the parents who do not share my view and I recognise that I have no comfort to offer them, beyond letterbox contact. If ever an example was needed of how legitimate and heartfelt aspirations of parents can be trumped by the welfare needs of the child, this surely is it.

For an example of a case where a mother succeeded in appealing against the initial refusal to allow her to argue against a placement order, see the case of G (A Child) [2015] EWCA Civ 119, discussed in this post by suesspiciousminds. The Court of Appeal agreed that a change to the child’s circumstances could also be relevant:

The “change in circumstances” specified in section 24(3) of the 2002 Act is not confined to the parent’s own circumstances. Depending upon the facts of the case, the child/ren’s circumstances may themselves have changed in the interim, not least by reason of the thwarted ambitions on the part of the local authority to place them for adoption in a timely fashion. I would regard it as unlikely for there to be many situations where the change in the child’s circumstances alone would be sufficient to open the gateway under section 24(2) and (3) and I do not suggest that there needs to be an in-depth analysis of the child/ren’s welfare needs at the first stage, which are more aptly considered at the second , but I cannot see how a court is able to disregard any changes in the child/ren’s circumstances, good or bad, if it is charged with evaluating the sufficiency of the nature and degree of the parent’s change of circumstances.

The case of P (A Child) [2018] EWCA Civ 1483 (28 June 2018) allowed a mother’s appeal against the refusal to grant her an adjournment before making a placement order. Although there had been long standing concerns about her alcoholism, she had developed considerable insight and   made significant progress – she had done ‘all’ that could be expected of her. The Court of Appeal rejected the suggestion that a six month adjournment served ‘no purpose’ given that the plan for a 6 month old baby was adoption.

 

Further reading about ‘change of circumstances’.

STEP TWO: If there is a change of circumstances, should the court give you permission to challenge the adoption order?

In relation to Step two this an issue of judicial evaluation or discretion which means that different judges can and do make different decisions but could not necessarily be challenged on appeal. ‘Exercising a discretion’ means you are making your own value judgment and there is usually a pretty wide range of possible outcomes that would be accepted. Provided of course that the Judge has applied the correct law and facts.

The parent must have ‘solid grounds’ for making the application. Paragraph 74(i) to (x) of Re B-S identifies the features to be weighed in the balance.

  • Prospect of success here relates to the prospect of resisting the making of an adoption order, not the prospect of ultimately having the child restored to the parent’s care.
  • The issues of ‘change in circumstances’ and ‘solid grounds for seeking leave’  are treated as two separate issues in order to analyse them BUT in reality they are inter-linked and one may follow the other
  • If the Judge finds a change of circumstances AND solid grounds for seeking permission, the Judge must then consider child’s welfare very carefully.
  • The judge must keep at the forefront of his mind the teaching of Re B, in particular that adoption is the “last resort” and only permissible if “nothing else will do” and that, as Lord Neuberger emphasised, the child’s interests include being brought up by the parents or wider family unless the overriding requirements of the child’s welfare make that not possible.
  • But, the child’s welfare is paramount.
  • To find out what the child’s welfare needs, the judge must take into account ‘all the negatives and the positives, all the pros and cons, of each of the two options, that is, either giving or refusing the parent leave to oppose. The use of Thorpe LJ’s ‘balance sheet’ is to be encouraged.
  • The court needs proper evidence, but this doesn’t always have to be evidence from people speaking to the court. Often applications for leave can be fairly dealt with on written evidence and submissions.
  • As a general proposition, the greater the positive change in circumstances and the more solid the parent’s grounds for seeking leave to oppose, the more significant must be the detrimental impact on the child if the court is going to refuse to give them permission to challenge the adoption order.
  • The fact a child is now living with the prospective adopters or that a long time has passed, cannot determine the matter.
  • BUT the older the child and the longer he/she has been living with the prospective adoptions, the worse it is likely to be to disturb that.
  • The court should not attach too much weight to any argument that the proceedings are having an adverse impact on the prospective adopters – but this isn’t a trivial point and judges must try to minimise this impact by robust case management.
  • The judge must always bear in mind that what is paramount in every adoption case is the welfare of the child “throughout his life”.

Given modern expectation of life, this means that, with a young child, one is looking far ahead into a very distant future – upwards of eighty or even ninety years. Against this perspective, judges must be careful not to attach undue weight to the short term consequences for the child if leave to oppose is given. In this as in other contexts, judges should be guided by what Sir Thomas Bingham MR said in Re O (Contact: Imposition of Conditions) [1995] 2 FLR 124, 129, that “the court should take a medium-term and long-term view of the child’s development and not accord excessive weight to what appear likely to be short-term or transient problems.” That was said in the context of contact but it has a much wider resonance: Re G (Education: Religious Upbringing) [2012] EWCA Civ 1233, [2013] 1 FLR 677, para 26.

The court will be well aware of the seriousness of adoption and the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Re B [2013] 1WLR 1911.

STEP THREE: Will the court reverse the ‘direction of travel’ for the child and refuse to make an adoption order?

It is quite rare for the court to refuse to make an adoption order. One example of such a case is A and B v Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council [2014] which is the first since the 2002 Adoption Act. The court removed the child from the home of the potential adoptive parents – where he was settled – to live with his paternal aunt. It is clear that the court must consider the child’s welfare throughout his life – as the Judge commented here, this could mean 80 years or more.

The Judge commented at paragraph 95:

This case clearly requires taking both a short term and a long term view. C is currently very well placed with “perfect adopters”. They are a well trained couple with whom he is very well attached. He is of mixed race. They are both white and share with him that half of his ethnicity. A and B are “tried and tested” as has been said. His aunt and the principal members of the paternal family are black and share with him that half of his ethnicity. The aunt is a single person. She has not been “tried and tested” as a carer for C, but she has been observed as a carer of her own child, G, and thoroughly assessed as entirely suitable to care long term for C. There would be likely to be short, and possibly long term harm if he now moves from A and B to the aunt, but that is mitigated by his embedded security and attachments with A and B, and can be further mitigated by specialist training and support for the aunt, which she will gladly accept. The unquantifiable but potentially considerable advantage of a move to the aunt is the bridge to the paternal original family.

It is my firm judgment and view that it is positively better for C not to be adopted but to move to the aunt. In any event, I certainly do not consider that making an adoption order would be better for C than not doing so. Accordingly I must, as I do, determine not to make an adoption order and must dismiss the adoption application. Pursuant to section 24(4) of the Act, I exercise a discretion to revoke the placement order made in respect of the child on 2 August 2013.

The Judge had this to say about the ‘nothing else will do’ test at paragraph 15:

With so many Article 8 rights engaged and in competition, it does not seem to me to be helpful or necessary in the present case to add a gloss to section 1 of only making an adoption order if “nothing else will do”… Rather, I should simply make the welfare of the child throughout his life the paramount consideration; consider and have regard to all the relevant matters listed in section 1(4) and any other relevant matters; and make an adoption order if, but only if, doing so “would be better for the child than not doing so”, as section 1(6) requires.
If the balance of factors comes down against making an adoption order, then clearly I should not make one. If they are so evenly balanced that it is not possible to say that making an adoption order would be “better” for him than not doing so, then I should not do so. If, however, the balance does come down clearly in favour of making an adoption order, then, in the circumstances of this case, I should make one. I do not propose to add some additional hurdle or test of “nothing else will do”.

The decision of the Court of Appeal in July 2016 in W (A Child) [2016] EWCA Civ 793 dealt explicitly with four very important questions:

  • The approach to be taken in determining a child’s long-term welfare once the child has become fully settled in a prospective adoptive home and, late in the day, a viable family placement is identified;
  • The application of the Supreme Court judgment in Re B [2013] UKSC 33 (“nothing else will do”) in that context;
  • Whether the individuals whose relationship with a child falls to be considered under Adoption and Children Act 2002, s 1(4)(f) is limited to blood relatives or should include the prospective adopters;
  • Whether it is necessary for a judge expressly to undertake an evaluation in the context of the Human Rights Act l998 in such circumstances and, if so, which rights are engaged.

The court said this about the ‘nothing else will do’ test at paragraph 68 of their judgment:

Since the phrase “nothing else will do” was first coined in the context of public law orders for the protection of children by the Supreme Court in Re B, judges in both the High Court and Court of Appeal have cautioned professionals and courts to ensure that the phrase is applied so that it is tied to the welfare of the child as described by Baroness Hale in paragraph 215 of her judgment:
“We all agree that an order compulsorily severing the ties between a child and her parents can only be made if “justified by an overriding requirement pertaining to the child’s best interests”. In other words, the test is one of necessity. Nothing else will do.”
The phrase is meaningless, and potentially dangerous, if it is applied as some freestanding, shortcut test divorced from, or even in place of, an overall evaluation of the child’s welfare. Used properly, as Baroness Hale explained, the phrase “nothing else will do” is no more, nor no less, than a useful distillation of the proportionality and necessity test as embodied in the ECHR and reflected in the need to afford paramount consideration to the welfare of the child throughout her lifetime (ACA 2002 s 1). The phrase “nothing else will do” is not some sort of hyperlink providing a direct route to the outcome of a case so as to bypass the need to undertake a full, comprehensive welfare evaluation of all of the relevant pros and cons (see Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, Re R [2014] EWCA Civ 715 and other cases).

The court was clear that there is NO ‘presumption’ or ‘right’ for a child to be brought up by natural family and that those assessing the case had wrongly believed there was – thus the focus on the impact of removing A from the only parents she had known for 2 years, was not properly considered.

The issue is only and always the child’s welfare. The matter was returned to another judge for a re-hearing. It will be interesting to know the outcome.

Time Limits for Appeals.

For more detailed discussion of the rules that apply to time limits, see this post about appealing against a care order. It is very important that you tell the court that you want to appeal and why you want to appeal within 21 days of the decision you want to challenge.

The court have considered appeals out of time in the case of re H (Children) [2015] and emphasised how important it is to stick to time limits in children cases. Although the father in this case was allowed to appeal some 8 months after the first decision, the court emphasised that this was ‘exceptional’. See paras 33 and 34 of the judgment:

33.As a matter of law, if no notice of appeal is lodged during the 21 days permitted for the filing of a notice, a local authority should be entitled to regard any final care order and order authorising placement for adoption as valid authority to proceed with the task of placing the child for adoption. If that process has subsequently to be put on hold in order to allow a late application for permission to appeal to be determined, the impact upon the welfare of the child (particularly where prospective adopters who have been chosen may be deterred from proceeding) is also too plain to contemplate.

34. The problem that I have described is a necessary difficulty that arises from our system which contemplates that, notwithstanding the expiry of the 21 day period for lodging a notice of appeal, the court may, where to do so is justified, permit an appeal to proceed out of time. There will thus inevitably be a period after a late application for permission to appeal where time is taken to process the application before it is determined. Whilst accepting the inevitability of this source of, in some cases, highly adverse impact on the welfare of a child, every effort should be made to avoid its occurrence. One strategy which would seek to avoid the problem would be for the judge in every case where a final care and placement for adoption order is made to spell out to the parties the need to file any notice of appeal within 21 days and for the resulting court order to record on its face that that information was given to the parties by the judge. Secondly, this court and any appellate judge in the Family Court, must continue to strive to process any application for permission to appeal in a public law child case with the utmost efficiency. Finally, the fact that an application for permission to appeal which relates to a child in public law procedure is out of time should be regarded as a very significant matter when deciding whether to grant ‘relief from sanctions’ or an extension of time for appealing.

The adoption order has been made – can I challenge it?

This is very rare – but possible. However, those cases where adoption orders have been overturned appear to rest on procedural flaws in the application, not on the merits or otherwise of the adoption. The Websters for example, were denied the opportunity to challenge the adoption of their children on the basis that the children had lived apart from them for so long, it would not be in the children’s interests to remove them from their adoptive homes.

The case of, ZH v HS & others [2019] EWHC 2190, gives a clear example of how mistakes made in how the adoption order was applied for and made, were so serious that they undermined the whole basis for the order and it was set aside.

T and her mother ZH tried to come to the UK from Somalia to claim asylum .T ended up with the maternal aunt and uncle who asked social workers to help them regularise T’s status with them. They didn’t get legal advice but went to a CAB and filled in the forms to make an application to adopt T, saying ZH was missing – as they didn’t know where she was. T’s mother then managed to enter the UK two years later. She was clearly out of time to appeal against the making of an adoption order so she applied under the court’s inherent jurisidiction to set it aside. Every one agreed by the time this got to court in 2019, this was the right thing to do and T should be looked after by her mother.

The court was very critical about how the adoption order ever came to be made, calling the process ‘flawed’ and ‘replete with errors and omissions’, not least the correct notice wasn’t given to the LA and there were no checks on the uncle and aunt and no guardian appointed for T.

It is indeed really worrying to think that such an application got through a court process without anyone apparently noticing such significant procedural failings and there is no surprise that the High Court found these errors were so serious they tainted the whole process; the adoption order could not stand.

See further Julie Doughty’s discussion at The Transparency Project, ‘Can an adoption order be undone?’

 

I have taken the photograph above from this blog post – How does it feel to be adopted?

What’s the difference between adoption and fostering?

But why have adoption at all? What is wrong with fostering? Then mistakes can be put right later.

A child in foster care will be placed with parents’ consent under section 20 of the Children Act or because a care order was made. The parents will retain their parental responsibility. Foster carers are trained professionals who are not providing a ‘family’ for a child in the same way adoptive parents would. That is the key distinction between adoption and fostering. 

In the case of Re V [2013]  the Court of Appeal decided that a Judge was wrong to agree that long term fostering would best meet the child’s needs. The Court of Appeal set out the key differences between the adoption and long term fostering.

  • Adoption makes the child a permanent part of the adoptive family to which he or she fully belongs.
  • Once an adoption order is made, it is made for all time.
  • Contact arrangements are different between fostered and adopted children. LA has a duty to allow reasonable contact with a child in care.
  • An adopted child is not subject to any further LA intervention and can live ‘normal’ family life without any ‘stigma’ of being child in care.

It is clear that adoption is currently seen and has been seen for some time by our domestic courts as the ‘gold standard’ of outcomes for children.  But this isn’t a view shared by all – we certainly seem to be out of step with the rest of Europe.

Mostyn J commented in Re D (a Child) [2014]

The proposition of the merits of adoption is advanced almost as a truism but if it is a truism it is interesting to speculate why only three out of 28 European Union countries allow forced or non-consensual adoption. One might ask: why are we so out of step with the rest of Europe? One might have thought if it was obvious that forced adoption was the gold standard the rest of Europe would have hastened to have adopted it. (NB However, Mostyn J has got this wrong – every European country permits adoption without the parents’ consent – see this post from the Transparency Project).

 

Critics of the current system further ask why there needs to be adoption at all, why can’t children go into foster care so they can return to their parents if it is later found that they shouldn’t have been removed from home in the first place or if the parents can make changes to the way they parent?

The problem that we have is the near universal agreement from child psychologists and other experts about the crucial importance to a child of finding a permanent home and being able to become securely attached to his or her adult carers. You can read here about some of the problems children face if they can’t develop a secure attachment to their adult carers.

If a child has been away from his or her birth parents for many months or even years and particularly if that child has now formed a secure attachment to an adoptive family, there is serious concern about the emotional harm that would be done to the child if he or she was removed from the adoptive family to return to the birth family.

Suggestions have been made that the birth families and adoptive families could ‘parent together’ in such cases but that would require a degree of emotional maturity and an ability to put bitterness and recrimination to one side, which may be beyond most people’s abilities.

This explains why very sadly, the Websters weren’t able to get their children back, despite a court concluding that they ‘probably’ were the victims of a miscarriage of justice because their child’s injuries may have been due to scurvy, but this wasn’t recognised at the time.

However, the Council of Europe reported in 2015 about different European countries and their attitudes to adoption and commented unfavourably about the UK’s refusal to reverse adoption orders in such circumstances; para 74:

My attention has been drawn to a handful of cases which are extremely tragic and concern miscarriages of justice. In several of these cases, an underlying medical condition of the child such as brittle- bone-disease or rickets was overlooked, and the children were placed for adoption (without parental consent). The tragedy is that even when the parents finally win in court, and can prove their innocence, they cannot get their children back, because a flaw in the English/Welsh legal system means that adoption orders cannot be reversed in any circumstances – in a misunderstanding of the “best interest of the child” who actually has a right to return to his/her birth family.

What does seem to be very clear is that we need more and better consideration of issues such as contact with birth families after an adoption order is made;  see Re W [2016] and the comments of McFarlane LJ in the Bridget Lindley Memorial lecture October 2016 (mentioned below).

The ‘push’ for adoption.

There are serious concerns that an ideological ‘push’ for adoption is masking proper consideration of statistical trends and that adoption is being over promoted as the best outcome for children. An example of how the best interests of the child got over looked in a quest to find her an adoptive placement, see this case involving the London Borough of Hillingdon. Family Law Week reported:

The LGO found that during her time in care the council has spent two years looking for a family to adopt the girl, who has autism and other developmental delays, but none was found. She has been living with her current foster family since May 2011. The council asked the current foster carers to become special guardians, which would mean a more permanent arrangement, but the family told social workers they would need the extra long-term support they would receive if she remained a looked after child, and declined to become special guardians.

Because of the family’s refusal social workers carried on looking for an alternative permanent family, despite all evidence that this was not in her best interest. This uncertainty about her future has caused the girl significant stress and anxiety, damaging her welfare, her emotional wellbeing and her ability to learn.

The girl’s advocate contacted the LGO complaining that the council was not listening to the wishes of the girl to stay with her foster family.

The Adoption Leadership Board was concerned by the significant reduction in the last 12 months of placement orders made and decisions by LAs to pursue plans for adoption. Lucy Reed discusses this in her Pink Tape blog:

So what sort of beast is the Adoption Leadership Board? Well, it’s terms of reference are here and are pretty unobjectionable. It is not a body designed to promote adoption as an end in itself : only for those children for whom it is the “best way of achieving permanence”. It is not “adoption is a good thing” dot com. And yet…it strikes me that the title “Adoption Leadership Board” somewhat loses the nuance of the terms of reference and tends towards the idea that adoption is a good generally to be promoted. And the impression created is important. Coupled with the plain assumption that a fall in adoption numbers must be “a bad thing” the impression ain’t great. If you wanted to feed the “adoption targets” / “babies for sale” conspiracy theories this would be a good starting point.

 

Further reading

 

 

When will the court agree adoption is necessary?

And what do we mean by ‘nothing else will do’?

Introduction and summary

Adoption proceedings are dealt with by the Adoption and Children Act 2002. I agree that adoptions can be ‘forced’ in that the court can make an adoption order without getting the parents’ consent. But I don’t agree that this equates to a deliberate plot to target ‘adoptable’ children to get them into the system.

I believe that parents’  rights to be heard and produce evidence about what they think is the best outcome for their child are real and usually respected in the system. Judges have warned against the dangers of ‘social engineering’ for many years now.

In this post I consider the relevant case law which the court must have in mind when considering making a final care order which has a plan for adoption. The case of Re B-S in 2013 caused a stir amongst lawyers and social workers and was interpreted by some as changing the law by making it more difficult to convince a court to make an adoption order. The President of the Family Division clarified in the case of Re R in 2014 that his judgment in Re B-S had not intended to change the law and did NOT change the law. Re W in 2016 provided further refinement of the ‘nothing else will test’ and confirmed it is not the right test when the court has to decide between two appropriate placements.

I discuss these cases in more detail below.

Remember that Care proceedings are NOT adoption proceedings

The relevance of the 26 week timetable.

The first and very important point to make is that care proceedings are not adoption proceedings.  Before a child can be adopted, The LA has to obtain a placement order. This is often applied for at the same time as a final care order.

BUT note section 22 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (ACA) below; the LA can apply for a placement order if a child is accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act. This does raise some legitimate concerns about ‘adoption by stealth’ which I discuss further here.

Section 21 of the ACA says the court cannot make a placement order unless:

  • the child is subject to a care order OR
  • the court is satisfied that the conditions in section 31(2) of the Children Act 1989 are met OR
  • the child has no parent or guardian

The conditions set out in section 31(2) are those required to exist before a court can make a care or supervision order:

  • that the child concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm; and
  • that the harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to—
    • the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him; or
    • the child’s being beyond parental control.

Section 22 of the ACA sets out that a local authority must apply to the court for a placement order in respect of a child if:

  • the child is placed for adoption by them or is being provided with accommodation by them,
  • no adoption agency is authorised to place the child for adoption,
  • the child has no parent or guardian or the authority consider that the conditions in section 31(2) of the 1989 Act are met, and
  • the authority are satisfied that the child ought to be placed for adoption.

This a high threshold – for obvious reasons. Taking children away from their families is recognised as the most serious interference with people’s family and private lives; it has life long consequences for all concerned.

So if anyone tells you simply that a social worker will take your child and have him adopted, this is not an accurate description of the necessary process.

In fact the government became so concerned by how long care proceedings were taking that section 14 of the Children and Families Act 2014 now provides that care proceedings must finish as soon as possible or in any event, take no longer than 26 weeks to conclude.

Care Proceedings may go beyond 26 weeks when this is necessary to resolve the proceedings justly. The Children And Families Act further provides at section 14(5).

A court in which an application under this Part is proceeding may extend the period that is for the time being allowed under subsection (1)(a)(ii) in the case of the application, but may do so only if the court considers that the extension is necessary to enable the court to resolve the proceedings justly.

See further para 49 of Re B-S:

where the proposal before the court is for non-consensual adoption, the issues are too grave, the stakes for all are too high, for the outcome to be determined by rigorous adherence to an inflexible timetable and justice thereby potentially denied.

This was approved and re-stated by the President in Re S (A Child) on 16th April 2014.

Justice may not be sacrificed on the altar of speed. See further para 40 of Re NL (A Child) (Appeal: Interim Care Order: Facts and Reasons) [2014] EWHC 270 (Fam). We have considered this case here.

It will be interesting to see how further court decisions refine this principle in the light of worries over the misinterpretion of Re B-S.

But even if the court does not give permission for care proceedings to exceed 26 weeks, that does not mean that at the end of 26 weeks, the child will be adopted.  A court must made a final care order, then a placement order. This will give the LA the power to look for an adoptive placement and then the prospective adoptive parents will apply for an adoption order. The whole process is likely to take at least a year, if not more.

 

The link between care proceedings and adoption proceedings.

However, I believe it is clear there is a link between care and adoption proceedings; the LA must set out their plans for the children’s future in the care plans to be considered at the final hearing. So if the LA think adoption is the best option, they need to have made that decision before the final hearing so it can be confirmed by their Agency Decision Maker.

However, not everyone agrees with that position; see below for our discussion of the Adoption Leadership Board’s ‘myth busting’ guidance about the law on adoption.

Case law – what have the judges said about the need for adoption?

Lord Templeman in Re KD 1988:

The best person to bring up a child is the natural parent. It matters not whether the parent is wise or foolish, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, provided the child’s moral and physical health are not in danger. Public authorities cannot improve on nature” 

Mr Justice Hedley in Re L (Care: Threshold Criteria) (Family Division 26 October 2006)

Society must be willing to tolerate very diverse standards of parenting, including the eccentric, the barely adequate and the inconsistent. It follows too that children will inevitably have both very different experiences of parenting and very unequal consequences flowing from it. It means that some children will experience disadvantage and harm, whilst others flourish in atmospheres of loving security and emotional stability. These are the consequences of our fallible humanity and it is not the provenance of the State to spare children all the consequences of defective parenting. In any event, it simply could not be done. …It would be unwise to a degree to attempt an all embracing definition of significant harm. One never ceases to be surprised at the extent of complication and difficulty that human beings manage to introduce into family life.

 Baroness Hale in B (Children) [2008] UKHL 35:

20. Taking a child away from her family is a momentous step, not only for her, but for her whole family, and for the local authority which does so. In a totalitarian society, uniformity and conformity are valued. Hence the totalitarian state tries to separate the child from her family and mould her to its own design. Families in all their subversive variety are the breeding ground of diversity and individuality. In a free and democratic society we value diversity and individuality. Hence the family is given special protection in all the modern human rights instruments including the European Convention on Human Rights (art 8), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (art 23) and throughout the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. As Justice McReynolds famously said in Pierce v Society of Sisters 268 US 510 (1925), at 535, “The child is not the mere creature of the State”.

21. That is why the Review of Child Care Law (Department of Health and Social Security, 1985)) and the white paper, The Law on Child Care and Family Services (Cm 62, 1987), which led up to the Children Act 1989, rejected the suggestion that a child could be taken from her family whenever it would be better for her than not doing so. As the Review put it, “Only where their children are put at unacceptable risk should it be possible compulsorily to intervene. Once such a risk of harm has been shown, however, [the child’s] interests must clearly predominate” (para 2.13).

 

In re B (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Threshold Criteria) [2013] UKSC 33

See paragraphs 74,76,77,82,104,130,135,145,198,215. Orders contemplating non-consensual adoption are a ‘very extreme thing, a last resort, only to be made where nothing else will do, where no other course is possible in the child’s interests, they are the most extreme option, a last resort – when all else fails, to be made only in exceptional circumstances and motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short where nothing else will do.’

 

G (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 965

  • The crossing of the s.31 threshold does not of itself engage Art 8, but consideration of the question of what if any order should be made as a result does.
  • There is a presumption that the children’s best interests are served by being with their parents wherever possible.
  • Decisions that involve long term separation of a child from the family, or adoption will require a high degree of justification, be “necessary”, “nothing else will do” especially where intervention is extreme (such as adoption).
  • The task of a trial judge making the ultimate determination of whether to make a care order is more than to exercise a discretion – there is an obligation to determine the application in a way that is compatible with Article 8 – and to apply the yardstick of proportionality.
  • A linear approach to deciding the outcome is not appropriate – this means that it is not appropriate to evaluate and eliminate an individual option, to be left with the alternative (for example, M cannot care for the child, so a care order is the alternative). This approach leads to a bias towards the most draconian option. A global, holistic evaluation of each of the options available must be conducted.
  • A global evaluation requires a balancing exercise in which each option is evaluated to a degree of detail necessary to analyse and weigh the positives and negatives of each option side by side (the risks and positives of returning to M, against the risks and positives of long term foster-care). An express choice should then be made by applying the child’s welfare as a paramount consideration.
  • The court should also contemplate why any conclusion that renders permanent separation is “necessary”, on the basis that it is the “last resort” and “nothing else will do.”
  • The court should also be satisfied that there is no practical way that the Local Authority (or others) can provide the requisite assistance and support required for the child to be able to remain within the family

 

re B-S Children [2013] EWCA Civ 1146

The Court of Appeal considered this clear path of jurisprudence and issued stern warnings about the essential requirement in every case involving issues of non-consensual adoption, of clear analysis about all the realistic options.

The key points of the judgment can be summarised as:

  • Adoption is the ‘last resort’ [para 22]
  • The starting point must be consideration of the law around Article 8 of the European Convention and the fact that this imposes a positive obligation upon States to try to keep families together [paras 18]
  • The least interventionist approach is to be preferred [para 23]
  • The child’s interests are paramount, but the court must never lost sight of the fact that these interests include being brought up by his/her natural family [para 26]
  • There must be proper evidence from the LA and the Guardian that addresses all options which are realistically possible and must contain an analysis of the arguments for and against each option [para 34]
  • The court then ‘must’ consider all available realistic options when coming to a decision; [para 27, 44]
  • The court’s assessment of the parents’ capacity to care for the child should include consideration of what support was available to help them do so [para 28]
  • The LA cannot press for a more drastic form of order because it is unable or unwilling to support a less interventionist form of order; it is their obligation to make the court order work [para 29]

The Court of Appeal made it clear that it was ‘essential’ that a decision was made after a proper and thorough analysis of all relevant evidence. There was a real danger of not making the right decision if the court took a ‘linear’ approach to the options, i.e. rejecting option A, then moving on to option B etc. See para 44 of the judgment.

We emphasise the words “global, holistic evaluation”. This point is crucial. The judicial task is to evaluate all the options, undertaking a global, holistic and (see Re G para 51) multi-faceted evaluation of the child’s welfare which takes into account all the negatives and the positives, all the pros and cons, of each option.”

Rowing back from ‘adoption as the last resort’?

The impact of Re B-S and how it has been interpreted caused serious concern for many. Since Re B-S there have been a number of  Court of Appeal decisions that appear to want to ‘row back’ from the approach that adoption is the only permissible option when ‘nothing else will do’. See for example the case of M (A Child: Long-Term Foster Care) [2014] EWCA Civ 1406.

Suesspiciousminds discusses these cases in his blog post and comments:

We are continuing to refine / retreat from “nothing else will do” and our soundbite test is really ending up to be quite a nuanced and long test, rather more like –

“The Court must look at each of the options for the child, consider which are remote and which are possible, and of the possible options consider whether they are contrary to the interests of the child to pursue them. If there is an option that remains that is a less interventionist order than adoption, that should be preferred.”

In CM v Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council [2014] EWCA 1479 the mother appealed against the making of a placement order as the LA had proposed a time limited search for adoptive parents over six months, after which time, if none were found the plan would revert to long term foster care. The mother complained that this could not pass the test of adoption being ‘the last resort’ if in fact the LA were prepared to consider ‘another resort’ after only six months.  The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. At para 33 the court commented:

Neither the decision of the Supreme Court nor that of this court in Re B-S has created a new test or a new presumption. What the decisions do is to explain the existing law, the decision making process that the court must adopt to give effect to Strasbourg jurisprudence and domestic legislation and the evidential requirements of the same. A court making a placement order decision must conduct a five part exercise. It must undertake a welfare analysis of each of the realistic options for the child having regard among any other relevant issues to the matters set out in section 1(4) of the 2002 Act (the ‘welfare checklist’). That involves looking at a balance sheet of benefits and detriments in relation to each option. It must then compare the analysis of each option against the others. It must decide whether an option and if so which option safeguards the child’s welfare throughout her life: that is the court’s welfare evaluation or value judgment that is mandated by section 1(2) of the Act. It will usually be a choice between one or more long term placement options.

That decision then feeds into the statutory test in sections 21(3)(b) and 52 of the 2002 Act, namely whether in the context of what is in the best interests of the child throughout his life the consent of the parent or guardian should be dispensed with. The statutory test as set out above has to be based in the court’s welfare analysis which leads to its value judgment. In considering whether the welfare of the child requires consent to be dispensed with, the court must look at its welfare evaluation and ask itself the question whether that is a proportionate interference in the family life of the child. That is the proportionality evaluation that is an inherent component of the domestic statutory test and a requirement of Strasbourg jurisprudence.

That is what ‘nothing else will do’ means. It involves a process of deductive reasoning. It does not require there to be no other realistic option on the table, even less so no other option or that there is only one possible course for the child. It is not a standard of proof. It is a description of the conclusion of a process of deductive reasoning within which there has been a careful consideration of each of the realistic options that are available on the facts so that there is no other comparable option that will meet the best interests of the child.

For further consideration of what the law actually is in other European countries relating to adoption see the study of Dr Claire Fenton-Glynn, to the European Parliament in June 2015 Every European country permits adoption without a parental consent.

 

Re R [2014] ‘Re B-S was not intended to change and has not changed the law’

The President of the Family Division confirmed on 16th December 2014 that nothing in Re B-S had been intended to change the law. He stated at para 44 of the judgment:

I wish to emphasise, with as much force as possible, that Re B-S was not intended to change and has not changed the law. Where adoption is in the child’s best interests, local authorities must not shy away from seeking, nor courts from making, care orders with a plan for adoption, placement orders and adoption orders. The fact is that there are occasions when nothing but adoption will do, and it is essential in such cases that a child’s welfare should not be compromised by keeping them within their family at all costs.

The fact that the law in this country permits adoption in circumstances where it would not be permitted in many European countries is neither here nor there. I do not resile from anything I said either in In reE (A Child) (Care Proceedings: European Dimension) [2014] EWHC 6 (Fam), [2014] 1 WLR 2670, [2014] 2 FLR 151, or in Re M (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 152, but for present purposes they are largely beside the point. The Adoption and Children Act 2002 permits, in the circumstances there specified, what can conveniently be referred to as non-consensual adoption. And so long as that remains the law as laid down by Parliament, local authorities and courts, like everyone else, must loyally follow and apply it. Parliamentary democracy, indeed the very rule of law itself, demands no less….

The law and practice are to be found definitively stated in two cases: the decision of the Supreme Court in In re B (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Threshold Criteria) [2013] UKSC 33, [2013] 1 WLR 1911, [2013] 2 FLR 1075, and the decision of this court in In re B-S (Children) (Adoption Order: Leave to Oppose) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, [2014] 1 WLR 563, [2014] 1 FLR 1035….

…The fundamental principle, as explained in Re B, is, and remains, that, where there is opposition from the parent(s), the making of a care order with a plan for adoption, or of a placement order, is permissible only where, in the context of the child’s welfare, “nothing else will do”.

For further comment on this case and how it has been misreported in the media, see Pink Tape. See the statement by the British Association of Adoption and Fosterting. 

Further refinement of the ‘nothing else will do’ test – not appropriate when court needs to chose between two good placements.

Following Re W (A Child) [2016] EWCA Civ 793, the court decided that the question of ‘nothing else will do’ is not apt as the starting point in cases where the court had to decide between two different households – in this case the potential adopters and grandparents who wanted an SGO. The question to be answered is what outcome will best promote F’s welfare for the rest of her life.

The court said this at para 68 about the phrase ‘nothing else will do’:

The phrase is meaningless, and potentially dangerous, if it is applied as some freestanding, shortcut test divorced from, or even in place of, an overall evaluation of the child’s welfare. Used properly, as Baroness Hale explained, the phrase “nothing else will do” is no more, nor no less, than a useful distillation of the proportionality and necessity test as embodied in the ECHR and reflected in the need to afford paramount consideration to the welfare of the child throughout her lifetime (ACA 2002 s 1). The phrase “nothing else will do” is not some sort of hyperlink providing a direct route to the outcome of a case so as to bypass the need to undertake a full, comprehensive welfare evaluation of all of the relevant pros and cons (see Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, Re R [2014] EWCA Civ 715 and other cases).

69. Once the comprehensive, full welfare analysis has been undertaken of the pros and cons it is then, and only then, that the overall proportionality of any plan for adoption falls to be evaluated and the phrase “nothing else will do” can properly be deployed. If the ultimate outcome of the case is to favour placement for adoption or the making of an adoption order it is that outcome that falls to be evaluated against the yardstick of necessity, proportionality and “nothing else will do”.

Rare example of court refusing to make an adoption order – reliance on presumption of ‘right’ to placement with birth family that is no longer good law?

It seems that the case of A and B v Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council [2014] may be the first since the 2002 Adoption Act, where the court refused to make an adoption order and removed the child from the home of the potential adoptive parents – where he was settled – to live with his paternal aunt. It is clear that the court must consider the child’s welfare throughout his life – as the Judge commented here, this could mean 80 years or more.

For further discussion of this case, see suesspiciousminds.

The Judge commented at paragraph 95:

This case clearly requires taking both a short term and a long term view. C is currently very well placed with “perfect adopters”. They are a well trained couple with whom he is very well attached. He is of mixed race. They are both white and share with him that half of his ethnicity. A and B are “tried and tested” as has been said. His aunt and the principal members of the paternal family are black and share with him that half of his ethnicity. The aunt is a single person. She has not been “tried and tested” as a carer for C, but she has been observed as a carer of her own child, G, and thoroughly assessed as entirely suitable to care long term for C. There would be likely to be short, and possibly long term harm if he now moves from A and B to the aunt, but that is mitigated by his embedded security and attachments with A and B, and can be further mitigated by specialist training and support for the aunt, which she will gladly accept. The unquantifiable but potentially considerable advantage of a move to the aunt is the bridge to the paternal original family.
It is my firm judgment and view that it is positively better for C not to be adopted but to move to the aunt. In any event, I certainly do not consider that making an adoption order would be better for C than not doing so. Accordingly I must, as I do, determine not to make an adoption order and must dismiss the adoption application. Pursuant to section 24(4) of the Act, I exercise a discretion to revoke the placement order made in respect of the child on 2 August 2013.

BUT – would this case have survived the analysis of the Court of Appeal in Re W (A Child) [2016] EWCA Civ 793, which rejected the presumption in favour of placement with birth family?

The court said at paragraph 71 of the judgment

The repeated reference to a ‘right’ for a child to be brought up by his or her natural family, or the assumption that there is a presumption to that effect, needs to be firmly and clearly laid to rest. No such ‘right’ or presumption exists. The only ‘right’ is for the arrangements for the child to be determined by affording paramount consideration to her welfare throughout her life (in an adoption case) in a manner which is proportionate and compatible with the need to respect any ECHR Art 8 rights which are engaged.

Judges must not pay ‘lip service’ to the necessary analysis

A useful case is In the matter of P (a child) [2016] EWCA Civ 3 where the Judge was criticised for not conducting the necessary analysis required of the ‘realistic’ options. At paragraph 56 the Court of Appeal commented:

While ostensibly aware of the need to adopt a ‘holistic’ approach to the evaluation of the options for P (and the guidance offered by Re B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, [2014] 1 FLR 1935 at [36] and at [46]), we are not convinced that Judge Ansell delivered on his intentions. It is, as this Court has emphasised in Re B-S and in Re R (A Child) (Adoption: Judicial Approach) [2014] (above)) “essential” that a judge provides an adequately reasoned judgment at the conclusion of a case such as this. We very much regret that after the extensive, perhaps overly discursive, review of the evidence this judgment is light on analysis of at least one of the two realistic options (i.e. adoption) to the degree of detail necessary, nor does the judgment contain a comparison of each option or options (see McFarlane LJ in Re G (Care Proceedings: Welfare Evaluation) [2013] EWCA Civ 965, [2014] 1 FLR 670 at [54]), or a proportionality evaluation. In this respect, Mr. Horrocks makes good his submission.

There is no specially prescribed form for a judge undertaking the exercise outlined above; the judge is doing little more than performing an ‘old-fashioned welfare balancing exercise’ (Re F [2015] EWCA Civ 882 at [48]); the term ‘holistic’ does not have any special meaning. Neither the parties, nor this Court, will readily conclude that a judge has performed the necessary welfare balancing exercise just because he or she acknowledges the need to do so. The debate about whether the analysis of the realistic options is a ‘balance sheet’ of the pros and cons or an aide memoire of the key welfare factors and how they match up against each other is sterile. What is expected is that the benefits and detriments of each option are considered and there is an evaluation of each option as against the other based on that analysis.

No duty to assess wider family members – but it may be desirable

The case of RE H (Care and Adoption : Assessment of wider family) 2019 confirms that there is no ‘absolute duty’ to seek out wider family members and assess them. The court commented:

First, repeating a point made earlier (see [22]), none of the provisions of statute, regulations or rules to which I have referred, impose any absolute duty on either the local authority or the Children’s Guardian, or indeed the court, to inform or consult members of the extended family about the existence of a child or the plans for the child’s adoption in circumstances such as arise here. However, the ethos of the CA 1989 is plainly supportive of wider family involvement in the child’s life, save where that outcome is not consistent with their welfare .

 

Further reading

  • Read an article here by a family lawyer who is worried about the implications of the 26 week timetable introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014.
  • For another view, see this research from the Ministry of Justice in 2014 which suggests practitioners welcome the new approach to care proceedings.
  • The President of the Family Division has recognised there is a ‘tension’ between what the courts are expecting about the way care and adoption proceedings are dealt with and government proposals relating to adoption. 
  • Read Sir Martin Narey’s guidance about what the law does and does not say about adoption.

The misinterpretation of Re B-S? ‘Myth busting guidance’

Sir Martin Narey has noted with concern that the impact of what he asserts is the ‘misinterpretation’ of Re B-S which has reduced the numbers of children put forward for adoption by LAs by 46%. In an attempt to dispel the ‘myths’  that have arisen about when the court may make an adoption order, the Adoption Leadership Board has published  ‘myth-busting guidance’ after advice from Janet Bazley QC and consulting with the President of the Family Division.

Sir Martin Narey said:

Before commissioning the guidance, I discussed the serious drop in adoptions with Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division of the High Court who made the Re BS judgement, and I have been extremely grateful for his advice. The myth buster has been shared with him, and he supports its aim of dispelling misconceptions about the recent case law on adoption. [EDIT BUT – note the final paragraph of Re R [2014] discussed below, where the President is very clear that this ‘myth busting’ guidance is NOT endorsed by the judiciary.]

The main myths are that:

• The legal test for adoption has changed: It hasn’t.

• To satisfy the Courts all alternative options to adoption must be considered: Not so. The evidence must address all options which are realistically possible.

• Adoption is only appropriate where nothing else will do: ‘Nothing else will do’ does not mean settling for an alternative which will not meet the child’s physical and emotional needs.

• Because it is a ‘last resort’ planning for adoption must wait until other options have been categorically ruled out. Not true. Local Authorities should plan at the earliest possible stage for the alternative of adoption where it seems possible that the child’s reunification with the family or care by other members of the family might not prove to be possible.

• The 26 week rule applies to placement orders. Since April any application for a care order or supervision order must be completed within 26 weeks but placement orders are not subject to the 26 week time limit.

The myth buster is being distributed to staff at all levels and across various disciplines in local authorities, Cafcass and the family justice system.

I urge all those involved in the adoption system to read it and reflect on how they as professionals, and their organisations, can make sure their practice and decision-making accurately reflects the judgments.

Our most vulnerable children deserve nothing less.

A number of commentators have replied to say they don’t accept  that Sir Martin Narey is right to dismissal the relevance of the 26 week timetable; LA final care plans for adoption must be made before the end of the 26 weeks timetable in care proceedings,  so speeding up those proceedings will inevitably impact on adoption proceedings and the type and quality of analysis that goes into the decision that adoption is the right outcome for particular child.

Pink Tape comments:

So. On to my real bugbear. It is disingenuous in my view to send out a message to social workers that nothing has changed, the law is the same (and implicitly you can all stop getting your knickers in a twist and go back to how things were). Because everything has changed. Not the law. Anon QC is right about that. It’s not changed. And Re B and Re B-S don’t actually set out new law, or anything we haven’t been told before. But I think that things have changed pretty radically. And generally for the better.

It is our understanding of the law that has changed – and with it our practice. The authorities that emerged like machine gun fire from the Court of Appeal in the summer and autumn of 2013 were a wake up call, a reminder that sloppy practice and poor analysis are not “good enough”. A reminder that nothing less than our best practice – as lawyers, as social workers or as judges – will do. Yes, rigour is de rigeur.

Because you know what? Before Re B and what flowed from it there was a tendency to give up on parents a little too quickly, to rule them out early on and to autopilot to a plan for adoption as the best opportunity. If we are honest the analysis of this was often poor, the challenge from lawyers and from guardians too was sometimes less robust than it should have been, and the judiciary did not always proactively probe or highlight evidential deficiencies. After all, that’s why the Court of Appeal threw their toys out of the pram in Re B-S in the first place, wasn’t it?

Image is from AdoptHelp

 

Answering birth parents’ questions about adoption

Answering questions about adoption (by an adoptive parent)

A bit of background about me first – I’m a single mum, with three children, all of whom are adopted. Two of my children are now adults; the third is still in primary school. I spend a lot of time online nowadays, and I’ve been really privileged in the last few years to be able to talk with several birth mums about their experiences, and answer some of their questions about adoption and adoptive parents.

I could never truly know what it’s like to lose your child to adoption. But talking to mothers whose children have been adopted, has shown me that it’s often really confusing. They had a huge number of questions about adoption and adoptive parents, and no answers. They didn’t know any adoptive parents themselves, or at least none they felt comfortable asking their questions to.

I think these mothers were incredibly brave to ask me to answer their questions – they didn’t know me, I was just a random adoptive mum. They must have been worried that I would be judgemental or unkind. However it doesn’t matter to me whether someone is an adoptive parent or a birth parent or an adoptee. I hope I can find a way to support everyone who asks me to.

But I strongly feel that these mothers should have had an opportunity somewhere in the process to have all these questions answered, without having to reach out to a stranger on the internet. I am also sure that if these mums I talked to had questions, then there must be a lot more parents/grandparents (and other family) who also have the same questions about adoptive parents and adoption. So I’ve made a list of the questions I’ve been asked the most often by birth parents, and here are my answers. I’ve also included questions I’ve seen online which I haven’t been personally asked.

If you are a mother or father (or grandparent, sibling etc.) whose child (or grandchild, or sibling) is being adopted, then firstly I am sorry you are going through this. I hope you find these answers helpful. If you have any more questions you want to know about adoption that you think I could answer, please comment on this post, and I’ll try my best to answer for you.

And finally, from the bottom of my heart, thank you to the mums who asked me these questions first, who opened my eyes to how the process worked for them and who will remain in my thoughts always, as very courageous people who wanted the best for their children.

………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Why do adoptive parents want to adopt?

Adoptive parents have very different reasons for adopting. Many come to adoption following infertility, but quite a few of us don’t. For me, adoption was my first choice because above all, I wanted to become a mum and love a child with all my heart. I was a single lesbian woman and no other method of becoming a mother felt like the right thing for me to do. I felt that there were so many older children in care that I wasn’t comfortable creating a new life instead of becoming a mum to a child who was already here.

One thing all adoptive parents have in common is that we ALL adopt because we want to experience parenthood, in the same way that people who give birth to their children want to experience parenthood. I’ve seen a couple of people suggest that we want children as “accessories”, but nothing could be further from the truth. I want to reassure families of children in care, that with every adoptive family I’ve ever met, we love our children in exactly the same way as we would love a child born to us, and we would never treat a child any differently because they were adopted.

How does being approved as an adoptive parent work? Is it hard? Do they check up on you thoroughly?

It’s a long process, and it is definitely very thorough. It’s changed now from when I was approved to adopt, but the basics of it are the same. There are several key parts of it. Firstly, there are the basic checks – every adoptive parent will have a criminal records check (certain criminal offences bar you from ever adopting, including any offence against a child) and a medical check to make sure they are well enough to parent a child into adulthood. Social services will also check on prospective parent’s finances, inspect their home and make sure it’s safe for a child, and also get references from family, friends and others. For instance, my employer had to give a reference for me when I adopted the first time.

Secondly, there is a “preparation group”, which all prospective parents will attend at some point during the process. The point of this is to educate, and prospective parents will be taught about the legal process of adoption, why children are available for adoption, about parenting adopted children, and so on.

Thirdly, there are the homestudy visits. This is where a social worker visits the parent/s in their home and talks to them in huge depth about their life and about adoption. For instance, in my homestudies, we talked about my childhood, my family, what support I have around me, my beliefs, my previous relationships (including my sex life), how I would support and parent my adopted child, and about what kind of a child I would be adopting. We basically give social services our life story! A social worker even interviewed one of my ex-partners as part of my assessment.

The social worker who is assessing us will write all this information into a big report. Lastly, the report goes to an Adoption Panel, who review it all, and then recommend whether a parent should be approved to adopt or not.

So it is definitely a thorough process, and whoever adopts your child, will have been checked, questioned and scrutinised as far as possible to make sure they are up to the task.

Do you pay social services to adopt a child?

If we are adopting a child in the UK care system, no we don’t, absolutely not. Not even one pence! You might see people at some point claiming that we pay social services for a child, but this is not true at all. I think some of this confusion is because people see American adoption sites online, and over there, they also have a private adoption system for babies where money is paid by adoptive parents to the adoption agencies. This just doesn’t exist in the UK, so don’t let those sites worry you.

Do you pay any money to anyone else to adopt?

All adoptive parents have to have a (thorough) medical check. Doctor’s surgeries will usually charge for this, in the same way as they might charge for holiday vaccinations or some medical letters.

At the final part of the process, when you apply to the court to legally adopt your child, the court charges a fee. Some adoptive parents have to pay the fee themselves, but sometimes social services pay it for them. I have never paid for the court application for instance; the council have always paid it for me.

There is no other money paid to anyone in the adoption process.

Do you get paid to adopt?

No. Adoption is very different from foster care. Foster carers get paid a weekly allowance to foster. But when you adopt a child, they become your child (legally the same as if you gave birth to them) and so you are entitled to the same as birth parents get for their children (child benefit for instance).

What information do you get given about a child by social services, and what makes you “make your mind up” to adopt that child?

We get a lot of information. The very first thing we see is usually a short profile with just a little bit about the child, and if we are interested, we would get a lot more, in a report which is now called a CPR (Child Permanence Report). The information would include – about the child’s background, their birth family, why the child is in care and being adopted, the child’s personality, interests, behaviours, their health and medical information, their development, if they have any ongoing difficulties or need to be parented a bit differently to other children, about school and friends. It will also say what the plan is for contact after adoption with birth family.

After that, if you are still interested in adopting that child, the child’s social worker reviews your homestudy report and interviews you. Then they (and other members of their adoption team) come to a decision about whether they want to take things further. So it’s not just about you, as a parent, picking out a child. We adoptive parents do not just select a child to adopt like how it was decades ago. Social services have to choose you, based on whether they think you are the best possible parent for this child, and whether you can give this child everything they need.

If social services choose you, you then get even more information. You will meet the foster carer/s, and a medical advisor/paediatrician to get as much information as possible about the child and get all your questions answered. Finally after this, another ‘panel’ approve the match. This whole process of ‘matching’ lasts several months.

Making up your mind that you would like social services to choose you for a certain child, is really different for different people. Some parents ‘just know’ as soon as they read the CPR report, but others don’t and need more time.

When I read my eldest daughter’s information, I felt a strong connection to her, and I felt once I’d read her reports that she was most likely my daughter. I can’t tell you why I felt such a strong connection, it just happened! But we always use the huge amount of information we have to make up our minds as well. We have to be certain we can be the parent this child needs, and that we are comfortable with the child’s behaviour and their needs.

Whoever your child/relatives adoptive parents are, they will have put a huge amount of thought into whether or not to adopt your child/relative, and considered really carefully whether they are the right parents for this child.

Does eye and hair colour come into it?

No! I’ve seen birth parents being told that adoptive parents want children with blonde hair and blue eyes. Actually, we generally couldn’t care less what our child will look like! I’ve certainly never met any adoptive parent who cared whether their child was a blonde, or a brunette, or whatever. We view our children the same as we would a birth child. We wouldn’t care what our birth child looked like, and we don’t care what our adoptive child looks like. We just love them for who they are on the inside.

Personally, I thought it might be helpful for my children, if they looked like I could have given birth to them, because then my children could have privacy – they’d never have nosy strangers thinking ‘ooh, she/he must be adopted!’ based on their appearance. So for me, it was all about the child, and what I thought would be good for my child. It was not about me. As it happens, all my children look quite different, even the two who are birth half siblings!

Do you meet the child before you’ve decided 100% [if you want to adopt them]?

No. Being introduced to the child you are adopting is the very last stage. It’s called “introductions” and it’s where you and the child get to know each other before the child moves in. Before that happens, you’ve had all the information, made up your mind 100%, and been to the panel that’ve approve the match (and of course you’ve bought furniture and decorated etc.!) At this stage, everything is set. Once you’ve read the CPR and been to panel etc., you can’t meet the child and then decide if you want to adopt them. That would be very unfair and wrong for the child. As far as I was concerned, as soon as my children were told about me for the first time (by their foster carers and social worker) then I was absolutely 100% committed to them.

Do you “have” to tell the child that they are adopted? Could it happen that an adoptive family wouldn’t tell the child?

You don’t “have” to tell, because there is no law about it. We have the same freedom as birth parents to tell or not to tell our children about their early lives.

However, it is very rare nowadays for a child not be told they are adopted. Right from day one, we are told how important it is for children to know their story. Social workers and other adoptive parents, we are all very clear to prospective parents about how important it is for children to know about their adoption in an age appropriate way. Parents can access a lot of advice and tips about how best to do this. So whilst it could be that a child wouldn’t be told, it’s very unlikely. I’ve only come across a couple of people in about 18 years who haven’t told their children (and this includes online as well), as opposed to hundreds and hundreds who have.

At what age do you ‘tell’? And how?

Obviously with an older child, they know what’s happening. With a baby or toddler who is too young to understand, the way most adoptive parents try and ‘tell’, is in a way which means the child ‘always knows’. When they are older, they shouldn’t be able to remember a time when they didn’t know they were adopted. This means that for most children adopted as babies, they’ll be having little conversations about adoption by the age of 4 at the latest, but most usually a bit younger than that.

I told my youngest child the story of “the day we met” from when he was 2 years old (and he was 23 months old when we met), and I was also mentioning the word ‘adoption’ from that age. I didn’t bombard him with information; I just dropped in little things here and there. For instance, I remember when at age 3, a neighbour of ours was pregnant, and he pointed at her because she was getting so big. I said that yes, babies grow in the womb which is down in your tummy area, and you grew in X’s womb before you came to live with me. And he repeated that back to me.

All children who are adopted now are supposed to have life story books. These books, which as the name suggests, tell the child’s life story, might help parents to explain to the child the basics.

What are the options for any contact with birth mum? What’s the “norm”?

The norm in my experience is letterbox contact, which means letters going between you and the adoptive parents. This is normally either once or twice a year. It isn’t so common for there to be visits, but if there are, it will most likely be either once or twice a year. I’ve personally done both letters and visits.

For other adult family members, there might also be letterbox or, less commonly, visits.

The plan for contact should be mostly decided on before the child moves into their adoptive home, although it isn’t always. There may be a letterbox agreement which you sign and the adoptive parents sign. This agreement would say when the letters are being sent, to whom, how they are signed, and so on.

As the child gets older, they can have their own say in contact. For instance, my youngest child has asked for all letters to be stopped, so I stopped them. On the other hand, if my child had wanted the opposite and wanted more letters, I would have tried my best to add in another couple of letters a year. For adoptive parents, it’s about supporting our kids and helping them process everything.

What are the options for any contact with siblings? What’s the “norm”?

It definitely depends on where the siblings are living, whether they’ve lived together before and how close their bond is. But in my experience, visits with siblings are much more common than visits with any other members of the child’s birth family, especially if the siblings are also adopted or in long term foster care. I’ve supported my kids through a whole lot of sibling visits over the years. However, if there are no visits, letterbox contact is very often in place for the siblings, usually 1-3 times a year.

Will my child be told that I love them?

I realise how desperately you want your child to know that you love them. Every adoptive parent speaks to their children differently about their past, but most parents, when talking about their (young) child’s birth family, choose to say something along the lines of “your birth mum loves you very much, but can’t look after you”. As our children get older, we add in more about the ‘why’. I certainly have told my children that they are loved, and all the other adoptive parents I’ve met, tell their children the same. I want my children to know that they are loveable people, were the most loveable babies in the world, and that nothing that happened is their fault. I certainly want them to feel loved, and that’s something that all adoptive parents want for their children.

Will my child’s name be changed?

This is something I can’t give an answer to, because every situation is different. I can only say that in nearly all situations, the surname will be changed. Some children have their first names changed, but others don’t. Some of the things that may go into the decision are – whether there is a security risk (whether the child is likely to be recognised), how unusual the name is, its meaning and how old the child is.

I can give you my situation as an example – two of my children were older children when they came to live with me, hence it was entirely up to them what they did with their names. My eldest literally waltzed downstairs one morning and informed me that she was dropping both of her middle names, and had picked two new middle names for herself instead, which were x and y! And that was that, as far as she was concerned. My middle child on the other hand, only ever changed surname, and has kept all her other names as they always have been.

However my youngest child has been entirely named by me (and themselves!). I changed my child’s first name for many reasons, chief among them a security risk from a few people. I kept the old first name as a middle name, because I couldn’t take that away from my child. However, recently my child asked for that (original first) name to go entirely, and to pick a new middle name instead. So I went with my child’s choice, and we picked a new name together, which we are in the process of making legal now.

We are just one family, and every adoptive family will have a different story. So I can’t say whether or not your child will be given a new first or a new middle name. However I can say that if your child’s name is changed, they will at some point be told about it. My youngest always knew which name was originally the first name.

Again, if you have any more questions you want to know about adoptive parents/adoption that you think an adoptive parent could answer, please comment on this post, and I’ll try my best to answer for you.

A child’s perspective – Tammy’s story

Thanks to the TaKen UK website for letting us share this. Obviously, we don’t know all the details of what happened to Tammy’s family  – the fact that care proceedings lasted from 1989 – 1992 suggests that the case was about more than just one accident in the kitchen.

But whatever happened in this case, her perspective on her pain and hurt about what she believes happened  to her and her family emphasises the emotional cost of decisions in the family courts; something we should not lose sight of.

Tammy’s story – told in 2006

“In the best interest of the child” that’s what the professional’s state, but even the professionals and the family courts can be wrong as they were in my case.

Let me explain about my birth family, and myself. I am a young adopted adult; I was taken from my mum nearly 17 years ago on a false allegation, I was seven months old and sitting in my bouncing chair, my mum had gone into the kitchen to make me a night feed. I was happily playing with an activity toy, which I dropped on the floor; I leant forward to reach the toy but the chair followed me arid tipped forward falling on top of me. I sustained a bruise on my cheek. And that’s where my life was changed forever.

My case was heard within the family court in the years 1989 which lasted all the way to 1992. I was placed with a set of foster carers whom I stayed with for 13 months.

Then one-day social services accused the foster carers of suffering from depression and removed me from their care! I was then placed with three lots of emergency foster carers before being placed with my pre adopters, who then became my parents.

While this was happening to me my mum gave birth to my brother Cameron. One minute after his birth social services (a male) walked into the labour suite and tried to hand a place and safety order in writing to my mum who was laid on the bed with no clothes on and she had not even delivered the placenta. Medical staff asked the social worker to leave on three occasions eventually the social worker left the labour suite, leaving my mum very distressed and losing all her dignity.

My mum and Cameron went home to my grandparents where they resided until the 28th of December 1990. My mum then went to the family court as social services were trying for an interim care order to remove my brother from her care. My mum fought and won full parental rights of Cameron and no further action was taken.

All my mum wanted was to fight for me, she attended many family courts, which were held in secret and she was not allowed to talk about our case or me to anyone.

Time passed and Cameron reached the age of 21 months old, when the social services actually reached a date for my freeing order, which was in the year of 1992; there were no concerns to Cameron’s welfare. She was an excellent mother to him.

The judge who heard my case made his decision on the basis that social services had delayed my case for over two and a half years. On reading his decision to my mum (he stated) “Miss Coulter if I return your daughter home to you, you will be a stranger to her” and on that decision I was freed for adoption and my whole future was completely changed.

Finding out that you are adopted is one of the worst feelings in the world because you feel that all your identity you have known of yourself is a lie; for example your whole childhood and personality.

I found out through photos that my brother was still with my mum and is one and a half years younger than me. This was very upsetting and left me wondering why my mum wanted my brother and not me.

Left with these unanswered questions and feeling very confused; like I did not belong anywhere I wanted to find the truth, and the answers to my questions, the only person who could answer them was my mum.

My decision to find my birth family was not supported in the way in which I would have liked from my adoptive parents. I went about looking for my mum by first of all ringing support after adoption that told me I must wait until I am 18 years of age and would not offer me any help or advice. Which left me more confused and very upset?

In January this year on a Thursday night I received a phone call from my best friend. She told me to go over to her house, as it was very important. I had no idea of what I was to be told. Her laptop was placed on her bed and she told me to read the posting. I was ecstatic as I read the information, which confirmed that my mum was looking for me as much as I was looking for her.

My friend who knew as much as I did about my adoption found the posting when secretly putting my name on GENES REUNITED. I found myself emailing her my mobile number as I knew the same information which was written in her posting; which included information that nobody would have known about me.

I waited three and a half hours for the phone call which would change my whole life, and answer all the unanswered questions which had been tormenting me since the age of about 11 when I moved to Comprehensive School where I met many other adopted and fostered children.

Waiting for the phone call was the most exciting and precious time of my life, the hours seemed like weeks. In the next breath I was actually talking to my mum on the phone, we spoke for an hour about everything that we could. We put the phone down and later that evening I rang my mum back and told her I know it was short notice but could we please meet the following morning and she agreed to.

Our meeting was very emotional for the both of us, neither of us spoke we just put our arms around each other and cried together, we held each other very tight and I cant explain how happy I was feeling.

After many secret meetings I decided to tell my adoptive parents about my news, I did not tell them for about two months because I knew what their reaction would be. When I told my mum, as my dad was at work she cried and turned her back on me making me feel very isolated as if I had done something wrong. They never did understand why it was important that I find my birth family nor did they support me at the emotional time. I was keeping in contact via the Internet with my birth family as my mobile phone was confiscated; however they also stopped me from using the Internet to stop any contact, which I was having with my birth family. During this time I was studying for my AS levels which I failed due to all the stress and confusion.

The way my adoptive parents were towards my other life caused a huge conflict in the house making life unbearable at home and at school. I was eventually turned away from my home due to arguments other than my birth parents; this is when I phoned my birth mum, as I had nowhere else to turn. It was too late when I was asked to return to the house I did not want to be treated like a child nor did I want to my feelings to be ignored any longer, so I decided to move in with my birth family.

This brings me to why I am here today, I was a child who was wrongfully removed from the care of my mother and most of all I have had the rights taken away from me to have enjoyed the right to a family life with my natural family.

I would like to say I have had a good upbringing by my adoptive parents and I love them very much, however the complication of my adoption also ruined my relationship with my adoptive parents, as I only wanted to find the truth about my life.

I am publicly speaking today on behalf of children and parents who have also been through the secrecy of family courts and the injustices that have taken place and do still take place and the devastation of what one decision that determines the future of a child can cause to a whole family.

Since I have moved in with my birth family I see the relationship between my mother, brother and sister and cannot help feeling like I have missed out no matter how much I fit in now. We have all bonded very well, I now feel as if I fit in somewhere and feel I can be myself as I have found out who I really am and that my mum never did anything wrong. Over the years Yvonne has been fighting to prove her innocence and that an injustice has taken place. I am very angry and also upset that my mum was treated like a criminal and punished for life on something that she never did, and she had the right to a family life taken away.

Let me explain to you how I am feeling:

• Confused
• Hurt
• Stripped of my identity
• I missed out on a relationship with my brothers and sisters, mum and dad and other close relations
• Exhausted through lies

• I know I am not the only person to have gone through the hell of secrecy in family courts and hope to have expressed the way in which they will feel and are feeling at my age.

Changes that I would like to see happen.

1) For medical evidence used in the courts to not be based on probabilities when determining a child’s future, it must be fact.

2) To stop social services making medical diagnoses when not qualified to do so.

3) For social services when conducting assessments to be thorough and not based on self-opinions but facts.

4) For an independent body who is impartial to social services to be brought in when social services are assessing a family and to check they are following all guide lines of social work.

5) More support for families with whatever reason; a low IQ, a mother whom has depression, a parent that has suffered domestic violence and also a parent whom has a disability. More outside agencies should be involved to help put support packages in place to help families stay together and have the right to a family life.

6) Slow integration of a child back with its natural family should be paramount and decisions to take away the child should be the last resort. For example my mum was told she would be a stranger to me if I were returned home to her however my foster parents and my adoptive parents were also strangers.

7) The most important factor of us all being here today is about the secrecy surrounding the family courts and why they should be opened, you have all listened to my story and many of you would have read similar stories to mine in the media. I am of age where I can talk about the detrimental effects that the secrecy of the family courts has caused to me.

Many of the children who have been taken in the past and are still being taken do not have a voice.

The opening of the family courts would make it a fairer, non judgmental and a more impartial system which would help children that are left in the hands of abuser’s and would also work by stopping children from being wrongfully removed and injustices from taking place.

So please when considering the opening of the family courts take into account that we are all human and we have feelings and the way in which the courts have been working up to this day has been inhumane in many cases and human rights have been exploited.

The detrimental emotional effects and the separation, has on children torn apart from their birth families, lasts a life time.