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Local Authority lawyers should grow a pair

This post contains 95 per cent of your Recommended Daily Allowance of Sarcasm and 119% of your Recommended Daily Allowance of Dopiness

 

Well, it isn’t quite put like that, but it isn’t far off.   I appreciate that for a substantial amount of my compatriots, it isn’t even biologically possible.

 

You see, it turns out that the adoption statistics are our fault.  We all knew that there was about to be a blame game  (heaven forbid that anyone should even consider whether the direction of travel might be a good thing, or a bad thing or a neutral thing before embarking on the blame exercise), but it turns out that the finger points at Local Authority lawyers, who, as I say, are going to be told to ‘grow a pair’

[Even though I speculated today that the next judicial edict would be that the LA final evidence must be written in iambic pentameter and rather than being typed, the social worker would have to sew it using cross-stitch, this rather surprised me.  “It turns out that the Bayeux Tapestry was really just contact notes”… I fully anticipate that Dallas PD will be questioning all Local Authority lawyers about JFK shortly]

 

Martin Narey, Adoption Czar  (or is it Tsar? I can never remember, but it always does remind me that the career trajectory of Czars and Tsars, both in historical leader sense and in political oversight sense hasn’t been that stellar) has given a speech at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.

 

He is thus talking to the uber-bosses of all social workers, the capo del tutti capi of social workers.

Whilst I’m not the largest flag-waving champion of Mr Narey, and I’m unlikely to ever make his Christmas card list, I will give credit where it is due. He has put that speech up online, so that people can read it. He didn’t HAVE to do that, so good on him for doing it.

Flag is going back in the cupboard now.

 

It isn’t really surprising that he opens with a discussion about the adoption statistics. To be fair (oh, flag coming back out), if you’re the Adoption Czar and there’s a big political drive to get adoption numbers up, then when they absolutely tank, you’re BOUND to want to do something about that. If you don’t, then you’re sort of redundant. Probably literally as well as figuratively.

 

Mr Narey refers to the drop being a result of two major Court decisions, Re B and Re B-S, and reminds us all that he helped to produce a Myth-Busting document that picked up a lance and slew the dragon of misconception, so these adoption figures should recover, thanks to his intervention.

 

He talks about the number of ADM decisions for Placement Orders to be sought going down 52% last year, and he says this    (If I’m crabby here, it is only PARTLY because I can’t cut and paste from his slides and have had to type the whole thing out. Only PARTLY)

 

“But these are not as a result of the Courts rejecting Placement Order applications in vast numbers. The drop is overwhelmingly explained by a drop in Local Authority Placement Order applications. They have dropped from 1,830 to 910, a decrease of almost exactly half.

 

Unless you believe that all those adoption decisions you made last year were not in the interests of those children, I urge you to ensure that your social workers and lawyers have not lost their nerve, and the President’s exhortation that you must follow adoption when that is in the child’s best interests is followed. If current figures do not recover, then over time, we shall see adoption numbers drop back very substantially indeed.

 

I don’t think adoption can ever be suitable for other than a minority of children in care. But I think that minority is probably more than 5,000 or just 7% of the care population”

 

Well, where to start?

As an argument “Unless you believe that all those adoption decisions you made last year were not in the interests of those children”  so get out and make some more – ideally 50% more , leaves a lot to be desired. Firstly, it is an emotive appeal. Secondly, saying ‘If you think all those cases where you recommended adoption, you were right’ inexorably leads to   ‘a lot of the ones where you didn’t, you must be wrong’ is some strange use of logic that I’m not familiar with.  Of course ADMs who make a decision that adoption is the right plan for a child do so believing that this is in the best interests of the child. But why on earth should that mean that they were wrong with those that they rejected?

That’s like saying  “remember all those times you bet on Red in the casino and you won? Well, forget about the times that you bet on Red and lost, or you bet on Black and won, clearly betting on Red is the right approach. Go heavily into Red. “

Next, if you think that Local Authority lawyers have lost their nerve, then you need to get out in the trenches with us. There has NEVER been a harder time to be a Local Authority lawyer.  I don’t say this to garner sympathy (I know that many of my readers think that lawyers, and LA lawyers in particular, are the devil incarnate – they are wrong, it is just me), but it is the truth.  It is breathtakingly offensive to say that we have lost our nerve.

Nor have social workers.

 

Perhaps the Adoption Tsar doesn’t know that actually, a lawyers’ job is to give advice but take instructions. We don’t EVER say to a social worker that they can’t put forward a plan of adoption or ask the Agency Decision Maker to approve that plan. We tell them whether or not such a plan is likely to succeed in Court, and we tell them what the strong and weak points of their case is, and we give them advice on what they can do to improve the weak points and how to present their evidence in the way that the Courts now require.

What we do not do, is advise the ADM  “you should approve adoption here”  or “this isn’t an adoption case”.  Even back in the days of Adoption Panel, where a lawyer sat in the same room as the Panel when they made the decision about whether it was an adoption case or not, we didn’t get to make any representations about it or to vote.  Our role was, and still is, limited to giving advice on any legal issues that arise, not to advise the ADM on the merits or otherwise of the case.

 

Mr Narey’s argument here is presumably, theat if Local Authorities had asked the Court to make 1,830 Placement Orders after Re B-S, the Court would have made them.   (And perhaps if we’d asked for 4,000, the Court would have made them too).

 

The reason the adoption statistics dropped was because we were stupid and didn’t understand Myth-Busting !  (TM)  or because we were too timid to ask the question – social workers and Local Authority lawyers have been metaphorically teenagers who want to ask someone out but end up not being able to get a word out when we are near the subject of our affections. What Mr Narey is saying to us is “Hey, that person you like is TOTALLY into you, and they would TOTALLY say yes if you asked them to go to the pictures with you”

It is of course telling that with that 52% drop in applications for Placement Orders, I have not heard of a SINGLE case where a Judge seized of all of the facts and evidence, said to the Local Authority “I cannot believe that you are putting forward a plan that doesn’t involve adoption here, I really think that you should reconsider”  , or given judgments that say “none of the options put forward for this child are sufficient to safeguard their well-being, and I adjourn the final hearing so that matters can be reconsidered”

 

 

I think that it is interesting that whilst this speech makes great play of the President’s decision in Re R, and even quotes from it approvingly, it misses out two really major elements of Re R.

 

The first is this one:-

 

in the final analysis, adoption is only to be ordered if the circumstances meet the demanding requirements identified by Baroness Hale in Re B, paras 198, 215.’

 

[And to save you flipping back to Re B, that, precisely, is THIS

 

para 198: “the test for severing the relationship between parent and child is very strict: only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do.” 

para [215]:

“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.” ]

 

If a Judge makes a Placement Order without engaging with that test, the judgment will be deficient. If a Local Authority present their case without striving to meet that test, their evidence will be deficient.

The Court of Appeal in Re R also made it plain that all of the stipulations laid down in Re B-S about the quality of the evidence, the need for robust and rigorous child-specific analysis of all of the realistic options and the Court not proceeding in a linear manner still stand.

 

The second omission is of course,

On 11 November 2014 the National Adoption Leadership Board published Impact of Court Judgments on Adoption: What the judgments do and do not say, popularly referred to as the Re B-S myth-buster. This document appears to be directed primarily at social workers and, appropriately, not to the judges. It has been the subject of some discussion in family justice circles. I need to make clear that its content has not been endorsed by the judiciary.

 

I have set out before, here, what the Court do and do not say in Re R     http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/view-from-the-foot-of-the-tower-two-steps-forward-two-steps-back

 

As I said in that piece, the ‘myths and misconceptions’ that the Court of Appeal were slaying were the ones that nobody actually believed were right – even the lawyers advancing those claims that “Re B-S means that if the positives and negatives aren’t set out in tabular form, adoption must be rejected” didn’t actually believe what they were saying.  (It’s one of the advantages of being a lawyer, you don’t have to believe what you are saying in order to say it…)

 

Mr Narey is quite right that the Court of Appeal are clear that where the only option that will meet a child’s needs is adoption, that’s the order that should be sought, and the Court will adjudicate on it. If the social worker thinks that of all of the realistic options, adoption is the only one that can meet the child’s needs, then they can and should go to the ADM to seek approval of that plan. And likewise, if the ADM thinks that, then they can and should approve the plan. And likewise, if the Court conclude that, they can and should make the adoption order.

 

That is encapsulated by this passage

‘[44] … 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.’

 

If a social worker, or an ADM think that this test is made out, then there’s no reason at all why they shouldn’t put forward a plan of adoption. It might be that when the evidence that lead them to think that is tested in the burning crucible of cross-examination, it is found wanting, but that’s how litigation works.

 

I can’t help but note that Mr Narey in his speech quotes a section of the President’s judgment from Re R  [what he doesn’t do is quote all of the bits in italics are a key part, which rather change the meaning if you ENTIRELY miss them out]

 

It is apparent, and not merely from what Miss James and Miss Johnson have told us, that there is widespread uncertainty, misunderstanding and confusion, which we urgently need to address.

[41] There appears to be an impression in some quarters that an adoption application now has to surmount ‘a much higher hurdle’, or even that ‘adoption is over’, that ‘adoption is a thing of the past.’ There is a feeling that ‘adoption is a last resort’ and ‘nothing else will do’ have become slogans too often taken to extremes, so that there is now “a shying away from permanency if at all possible” and a ‘bending over backwards’ to keep the child in the family if at all possible. There is concern that the fact that ours is one of the few countries in Europe which permits adoption notwithstanding parental objection is adding to the uncertainty as to whether adoption can still be put forward as the right and best outcome for a child.

[42] There is concern that Re B-S is being used as an opportunity to criticise local authorities and social workers inappropriately – there is a feeling that “arguments have become somewhat pedantic over ‘B-S compliance’” – and as an argument in favour of ordering additional and unnecessary evidence and assessments. It is suggested that the number of assessments directed in accordance with section 38(6) of the Children Act 1989 is on the increase. It is said that when social worker assessments of possible family carers are negative, further assessments are increasingly being directed: “To discount a kinship carer, it seems that two negative assessments are required.” There is a sense that the threshold for consideration of family and friends as possible carers has been downgraded and is now “worryingly low”. Mention is made of a case where the child’s solicitor complained that the Re B-S analysis, although set out in the evidence, was not presented in a tabular format.

[43] We are in no position to evaluate either the prevalence or the validity of such concerns in terms of actual practice ‘on the ground’, but they plainly need to be addressed, for they are all founded on myths and misconceptions which need to be run to ground and laid to rest.

[44] 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.

 

I appreciate, space is at a premium and when you’re giving a speech you don’t necessarily want to quote great chunks of a judgment, but when you quote as selectively as this, you are turning a passage in a judgment that is saying that where really ridiculous arguments about Re B-S are being used, those are fallacies into something which suggests that Re B-S says nothing of any consequence at all.  It is just plain misleading.

 

Ignore for a moment the “nothing else will do” formulation (although, as outlined above, it is still good law, just not in the ludicrously over-literal way that the Court of Appeal were initially using it).  These are the other changes in child protection law and adoption law since Re B.

 

1. The test for an appeal Court is now whether the Judge was  “wrong” and not whether the Judge was “plainly wrong”.  That is a substantial change, and makes the risk of being appealed in a judgment notably higher.

2. The Court can no longer proceed on a linear analysis.  They MUST look at the pros and cons of each option. This is not a small thing. Prior to this decision, the process was always “look at parent, if no, then look at family member, if no then adoption is all that is left, ergo the ‘last resort’ element is satisfied, it is the last resort because there isn’t anything left”.   If a Local Authority are making a case for adoption, they have to not only show the flaws in the other options, but that the benefits of adoption outweigh the FLAWS in adoption. That requires social workers to fully engage and grapple with the benefits AND flaws of adoption both in general and for a particular child.  If the Adoption Leadership Board want to tackle a single issue, rather than Jedi-hand-waving that ‘this law hasn’t changed, you may go about your business’, training that better equips social workers to do this and proper impartial and evidence-based research about those benefits and flaws would be a damn good start.

3. The rigorous analysis and evidence required as a result in Re B-S is still required.

Let’s look specifically at the example of social work analysis on why adoption was right for a child that the Court of Appeal tore to bits in Re B-S

“a permanent placement where her on-going needs will be met in a safe, stable and nurturing environment. [S]’s permanent carers will need to demonstrate that they are committed to [S], her safety, welfare and wellbeing and that they ensure that she receives a high standard of care until she reaches adulthood

Adoption will give [S] the security and permanency that she requires. The identified carers are experienced carers and have good knowledge about children and the specific needs of children that have been removed from their families …”

 

Prior to 2013, that wasn’t only the sort of thing that you’d see in a social work statement explaining why adoption was the right outcome for a child, it was actually one of the better ones. Prior to 2013, I’d have put that in the top 10% of attempts in a social work statement to explain the benefits of adoption.  This was an A minus attempt.

Let’s look at what the Court of Appeal said

With respect to the social worker … that without more is not a sufficient rationale for a step as significant as permanent removal from the birth family for adoption. The reasoning was in the form of a conclusion that needed to be supported by evidence relating to the facts of the case and a social worker’s expert analysis of the benefits and detriments of the placement options available. Fairness dictates that whatever the local authority’s final position, their evidence should address the negatives and the positives relating to each of the options available. Good practice would have been to have heard evidence about the benefits and detriments of each of the permanent placement options that were available for S within and outside the family.

 

. Most experienced family judges will unhappily have had too much exposure to material as anodyne and inadequate as that described here by Ryder LJ.

40. This sloppy practice must stop. It is simply unacceptable in a forensic context where the issues are so grave and the stakes, for both child and parent, so high.

 

I’ll say it again, because this is important. A formulation that I would have put in the top 10% of analysis that I’d been seeing pre 2013 was DESTROYED by the Court of Appeal as being completely inadequate.  An A minus attempt was given an E.   Whether or not Re B-S changed any legal tests, it certainly raised the bar massively for the standard of evidence and analysis required.

 

4. The test for leave to oppose adoption was dramatically reduced.  Prior to Re B-S, such applications were rare and also very easy to shut down. All you needed was to quote Thorpe LJ in Re W  “However, it cannot be too strongly emphasised that that is an absolute last ditch opportunity and it will only be in exceptionally rare circumstances that permission will be granted after the making of the care order, the making of the placement order, the placement of the child, and the issue of the adoption order application.”  and draw the Court’s attention to the facts of Re P, where parents who had gone on to have another child and keep that child, with no statutory order, hadn’t been sufficient to get them leave to oppose.   Now, the test is substantially reduced.   In particular, these two elements from Re B-S.

 

iii) Once he or she has got to the point of concluding that there has been a change of circumstances and that the parent has solid grounds for seeking leave, the judge must consider very carefully indeed whether the child’s welfare really does necessitate the refusal of leave. 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. That said, the child’s welfare is paramount.

 

and

vi) As a general proposition, the greater the change in circumstances (assuming, of course, that the change is positive) and the more solid the parent’s grounds for seeking leave to oppose, the more cogent and compelling the arguments based on the child’s welfare must be if leave to oppose is to be refused.

 

5.  As we have seen, more leave to oppose applications are being made, and more have been granted.  We also see that the Courts have given judgments in cases where adoption applications have been successfully opposed. To date, the reported cases are where a parent has been able to show that another family member could care for the child instead of prospective adopters who have had the child for 13-18 months.  Such a decision would have been unthinkable in 2012, but they are happening now.  What that means is that if a Court is being invited to make a Placement Order, and the LA are inviting the Court to do so, they have to have good, cogent evidence as to why family members are not suitable instead.  If they don’t get that exercise right first time round, then the child will pay the price when at an adoption hearing 15 months later, the Court may be removing the child from adopters and placing with those family members.

 

 

All of those things, and Lady Hale’s formulation are real things.  It does nobody any favours to ‘jedi-hand-wave’ them out of existence, particularly by chopping up a quote from a judgment so that a person reading it would think that the Court of Appeal had said:-

There appears to be an impression in some quarters that an adoption application now has to surmount ‘a much higher hurdle’, or even that ‘adoption is over’… those impressions are based on myths and misconceptions  

 

when those three little dots are missing out all of the actual substance.

 

Parliament has created a statutory power of adoption. The tests have been laid down in the Act. The Courts have interpreted how those tests are to be delivered in practice.  The Lady Hale formulation in Re B is the test that the Courts will be working towards. To pretend otherwise is misleading.

It does remain the case that where a Local Authority can show that none of the other options before the Court can meet the child’s needs, adoption is an option that they can legitimately pursue.

 

It’s disengenous to pretend that people didn’t understand that.  If social workers and lawyers and ADMs hadn’t grasped that, then there would have been NO applications for Placement Orders.  The numbers went down because the difficulty in obtaining a Placement Order from the Court went up.

 

 

If the social workers, lawyers and ADMs had ‘held their nerve’ in 2013 and made the same number of Placement Order applications, then the Court would have rejected them in huge numbers.  Maybe they all should have done, and let it become the Court’s problem.

Two years later, the same might not still be the case.  Firstly, the over-literal over-prescriptive appeals seem to have died down a bit. Secondly, social workers have got more used to the rigorous standards that are required in terms of their evidence and are better equipped to present their evidence to those standards.

 

 

 

 

 

The Adoption statistics

The Government have published their statistics (there’s a time delay, so these are the stats up to Autumn 2014)

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/436613/ALB_Business_Intelligence_Quarter_3_2014_to_2015.pdf

 

I suspect that the headline one  (which prompted all of those press releases in late April) is going to be this:-

 

 

Quarterly data suggests that the number of new decisions has continued to fall from 1,830 in quarter 2 2013-14 to 910 in quarter 3 2014-15, a decrease of 50%. The number of new placement orders have also continued to fall from 1,550 in quarter 2 2013-14 to 740 in quarter 3 2014-15, a decrease of 52%.

 

 

What they don’t have, is a measure of how many cases LA’s put before an Agency Decision Maker, so we can’t tell whether

 

  • Social workers were asking ADM’s for adoption approval less often, so less cases were approved
  • ADM’s were refusing a higher proportion of requests than previously, so less cases were approved
  • A combination of those factors  (which if so, would lead to even more of a drop – if social workers were only giving their ‘best’ cases for adoption to the ADM, but they were being knocked back, then you’d expect less and less cases to go to the ADM)

 

[And of course, what underpins all of that is whether social workers / ADMs were being overly cautious about the case law and not asking for adoption in cases where the Court would actually have made Placement Orders, or whether they were being realistic and knowing that if they asked for adoption they wouldn’t be capable of satisfying their Court that the tests were met]

 

 

What really fits is the increase stats on Special Guardianship Orders  – I haven’t seen the raw data, but the BBC claim this has tripled since 2012 (BS cough cough)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-32840224

 

When you look at the graph showing Agency Decision Maker decisions that adoption should be the plan for the child over time, you can see the numbers drop off a cliff at the time of the Supreme Court decision in Re B (nothing else will do).

 

You can argue (and it is a legitimate argument, where Re B and Re B-S were a new test, or a nudge in the ribs to apply the existing tests with proper rigour, and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing) but you can’t really argue as the current official narrative has it, that this isn’t even a thing. The graphs make it really obvious.

The quarter BEFORE Re B-S, 1830 decisions by ADMs that adoption was the right plan for the child. Re B-S hit in September 2013, so it would be the third quarter of 2013 when ADM’s would have known about it. Those numbers, 1290.  It is the sharpest drop of the entire graph.  It has continued to slope downwards since then, but the bit in the graph that looks like abseiling down the Eiger is Re B-S. You absolutely can’t dispute it.

The Myth-Buster document was published in December 2014, so we can’t see from the stats and graph whether that has led to a reversal of the pattern in the graph. We’ll see that in about six months, I suppose. Similarly, whether the Court of Appeal’s softening of position on “nothing else will do” translates into an increase in ADM decisions that adoption is the plan.

 

[Cynically, I doubt it. I’m well aware that I am not a normal human being in my interest in case law, and I haven’t always had it. For about my first five years in child protection law, you could get by on three cases  Re G (interim care is a deep freeze affording no tactical advantage), H and R  (the nature of the allegation doesn’t increase the standard of proof) and whatever at the time was the law on residential assessments.  Re B and Re B-S, with their hard-hitting message and backed by a soundbite ‘nothing else will do’ resonate with people much more than the inching back, case specific, deeply nuanced and incremental Court of Appeal cases since that time.  Even the Re R case http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/12/18/re-r-is-b-s-dead/  that was intended to slay the Re B-S myths is so nuanced that it takes nine or ten reads to have a grasp of what it is actually saying, and almost the day after you’ve done that, you couldn’t actually put it into a meaningful summary sentence]

 

 

[I argued before HERE  http://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/05/15/adoption-rates-in-freefall/  that the Press narrative that the case law will mean ‘children suffering in unsuitable and unsafe homes’ is an emotive over-simplification. I’d stand by that. At the moment, the case law on adoption has been going through its most radical changes in a generation, and it is certainly less predictable than it has ever been to decide what sort of case will result in a Placement Order and what won’t.  We are in a period of re-balancing. I don’t know yet whether these figures show that we have found the right level of those cases where adoption IS the right plan to put before the Court, whether there are even more drops to come, or whether there’s an over-reaction to it.   I have a suspicion, given that the entire history of child protection and family justice is about lurches from child rescue to family preservation and vice versa, and an eventual settling down at one particular side of the scale but hopefully not at the absolute far end of the scale…]

 

Given the huge push to recruit adopters – all the Government policies about making it easier, less time-consuming, less intrusive, more appealing , this statistic may get less attention but must be concerning

 

Registrations to become an adopter have decreased by 24% from 1,340 in quarter 2 2014-15 to 1,020 in quarter 3 2014-15. The number of adopter families approved for adoption has decreased by 3% from 1,240 in quarter 2 2014-15 to 1,200 in quarter 3 2014-15.

 

 

We will wait to see how the Court decisions that moved children from prospective adopters to the birth family (which is a completely new phenomenon, having not occurred at all prior to December 2014) has on adoption recruitment and retention.

 

 

The backlog (which had stood at 1 approved adopter for every 3 children approved for adoption) has been nearly cleared.

 

Our most recent estimate for the “adopter gap” suggests that the gap has closed, and we now have more adopters than children waiting. However, there are still 2,600 children with a placement order not yet matched and the relevance of this measure assumes that matching is working effectively.

 

 

The number of adoption ORDERS made is, they claim the highest since recording began

 

3,740 children adopted in quarters 1 to 3 2014-15

2013-14 saw the highest number of adoptions from care since the current data collection began in 1992, with 5,050 children adopted from care.

 

 

When I have looked at Court stats on adoption http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/publications/re-reference-tables.html?edition=tcm%3A77-316163   5050 looks like a pretty average year, with there having been figures nearly 50 per cent higher in the earlier 1990s.   (Now, it may be that the measure that is being used here is “Adoption of children who are in care” and that the Office of National Statistics figure bundles that in with ‘step-parent adoptions’,  so it is not a like-for-like comparison)

 

 

 

Finally, this statistic initially looks positive (how long does it take between a child coming into care and a child being placed for adoption  – you’d WANT that number to go down, since whether you want more or less children being adopted, most of us could agree that we wouldn’t want children to wait so long for a family to be found)

 

In 2013-14, the average number of days between entering care and placement was 594 days, an improvement from 656 days in 2012-13. Latest quarterly data suggests there has been a further improvement to 533 days. At 216 days, the average number of days between placement order and match in 2013-14 was a slight improvement on 2012-13. However, the latest quarterly data suggests that this has increased to 241 during quarter 3 2014-15.

 

 

The closer inspection is this :-

 

That since the 2012 figures, there has been legislation and huge resources expended on bringing care proceedings down from what was an average of 55 weeks to a target of 26 weeks.  That OUGHT to have had far more of an impact than 60 days being shaved off the time between entering care and a family being found.  It should be something more like a saving of 200 days. As the time from Placement Order to placement had gone slightly down (but was now going back up), that SUGGESTS that IF there is a saving of 30 weeks from start of care proceedings to Placement Order, but it results in only a time saving of 8 ½ weeks,  that there’s about 20 weeks unaccounted for.

 

Does that mean that :-

 

  • Whilst average time of care proceedings has gone down, it hasn’t gone down as MUCH for cases where adoption is the plan?  (That makes sense, as those are the ones that are most contentious and where all avenues tend to be exhausted?)
  • There’s been an increase in the time that children who go on to be adopted are spending in care PRIOR to care proceedings?  That “front-loading” element.

 

 

I don’t know how or if statistics on those issues are being kept.  It must be problematic that if we are compressing the time that care proceedings take, with all that involves, but barely reducing the time that a child waits between coming into care and a new family being found, have we really improved anything for the child?   (Note particularly that with the latest quarterly data, HALF the time that has been cut appears to have been lost by an increase in the family finding process.  216 days of family finding and matching post Placement Order equates to 30 weeks)

 

 

The notional 200 day saving from faster care proceedings isn’t turning into a real saving, and that feels counter-intuitive. What we’ve been told for years is that if decisions about children are made by the Courts quicker, the children will be easier to place  – they will be younger and have less issues (and thus, you’d assume, faster to place).

Adoption rates in freefall

I’ve been asked if I would write about the story in the newspapers this week about adoption rates going down and the blame being placed on some high profile case law decisions. This is the first time that I have ever received a request, so I should oblige.  [If anyone’s future request is that I write about my love of Jaime Lannister, or that Joe Hill’s Locke and Key is the best comic series since Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol, then for those, it’s on like Donkey Kong]

 

The Painting that Ate Paris (Doom Patrol)

The Painting that Ate Paris (Doom Patrol)

 

Locke and Key - this is what happens when you use the Head key to look inside your own mind

Locke and Key – this is what happens when you use the Head key to look inside your own mind

 

 

So, here is the Independent piece – there’s a startlingly similar one in the The Times, but you need to pay Rupert Murdoch money to look at it. The choice is yours.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/adoption-rates-in-freefall-after-court-ruling-leaves-children-languishing-in-unsuitable-homes-10245614.html

 

This piece is very knowledgeable about family law and case law – more than you’d expect from a journalist. The fact that two newspaper articles with the same cases turned up this week makes me suspect a press release was involved.  The same piece appears on the BBC website.

 

Let’s have a look at it bit by bit.

The number of children being put forward for adoption has plummeted over the past year following a series of court rulings that have left local authorities frightened of removing them from birth families.

Child welfare experts are worried the decline will mean more children suffering in unsuitable and unsafe homes. It also means agonising delays for parents approved for adoption who now find no children are available.

The number of children signed off for adoption fell from 1,550 in the summer quarter of 2013 to 780 in the same period last year, down almost 50 per cent.  

 

Okay, well firstly, whilst one feels for an adopter who is waiting for a child, the family justice system isn’t, and shouldn’t be, prioritised to deliver children to adopters. The idea is that the family justice system tests fairly whether a parent can be helped to care for their child, with adoption being the last resort. Secondly, “Signed off for adoption” is not only a very ugly expression, it is hard to put a proper meaning on it. Does it mean “The Agency Decision maker decides that adoption is the plan the social worker should recommend to the Court”?  or does it mean “A Placement Order is made”?

As the Department for Education hasn’t published (yet) the statistics that is getting all of these newspapers up in arms, it is a bit difficult to tell. The thrust of the article suggests that the drop in figures is that Local Authorities are too scared to ask for adoption, so the assumption is that the drop here is in the number of APPLICATIONS for Placement Orders (i.e a social worker recommending to the Agency Decision Maker that adoption should be the plan and the ADM agreeing) – that in itself could be that social workers are asking the Agency Decision Maker less often, or that the Agency Decision Maker is saying no more often, or both.

That in turn could be because the thrust of the Re B, Re B-S et al decisions made social workers look harder and more carefully at whether adoption really was the right plan for a child – could more be done to support a parent, could those grandparents who are not ideal be good enough? Really hard to guage that from statistics – you’d need to have a look at a pile of actual cases and compare the sort of cases that were ending up with adoption in 2013 that are now ending up with parents or grandparents.  It is also difficult to know whether that’s a bad thing anyway. If the trend is to be more willing to work with parents or grandparents who are not perfect, but could be helped to be good enough, that could be a perfectly laudable aim. We might not know whether that greater willingness to give things a try was a long overdue adjustment or a bad mistake for a few years – the real test will be whether those attempts broke down.  At the moment, we can’t even tell if that’s what happened.

Certainly Local Authorities aren’t taking any less care proceedings than they used to. The latest CAFCASS statistics show that the number of applications is continuing to go up – 18% up on this time last year.

I honestly don’t think, and the recent clarifications from the Court of Appeal make this clear, that the caselaw ever meant that children should be “suffering in unsuitable and unsafe homes”. If the Court considers that the alternatives to adoption are unsuitable and unsafe, then adoption is going to be the outcome. Nothing has changed there. I also don’t think that social workers have decided to leave children “suffering in unsuitable and unsafe homes” as a result of Re B, Re B-S et al, rather than asking for adoption as the plan. What might have changed is that it is no longer enough to just assert that an alternative is ‘unsuitable’, but you have to evidence it. I don’t consider that a bad thing.

 

Next

But in November 2013 the President of the Family Court, Sir James Munby, made a ruling that left many local authorities convinced they must try every extended family member before putting a child up for adoption. The judge said that six-month targets for adoptions should not be allowed to break up families unnecessarily and that grandparents and other extended family members should be considered before placing children for adoption.

It had been hoped that a second ruling last December from the same judge, clarifying he had not changed the law in the original judgment, would curb the freefall in adoption numbers. But instead further rulings from Sir James and other judges have exacerbated the problem.

 

The first case is Re B-S  – and you can read my post about that case here http://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/09/17/this-is-some-serious-b-s/    – it was undoubtedly a big case, telling social workers, Guardians AND Judges that decision-making on adoption cases had gotten very sloppy and that the argument to justify making such a serious order needed to be clearer, stronger and more analytical. It was no longer enough to parrot stock phrases about why a child needed to be adopted – a proper comparison of the pros and cons of EACH option tailored for the individual child needed to take place. It is really hard to see much wrong with Re B-S. If anything, it should have been said years earlier. There’s nothing in it to suggest that a Court should leave a child ‘suffering in an unsafe and unsuitable home’

 

The scond case is Re R – and you can read my post about that case here http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/12/18/re-r-is-b-s-dead/  – that clarifies that some of the more outlandish claims that lawyers had pushed to extremes about Re B-S – that it was a “climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every river – before you make a Placement Order” case was not right, but that everything I just said above was still right, and the Supreme Court’s formulation that “the test for severing the relationship between parent and child is very strict: only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do.”  was still bang on right.

 

Next – let’s have a look at these further confusing rulings

In January Sir James granted an appeal in a case in Liverpool where three children were taken away from a mother with a history of drug and alcohol abuse who was given no opportunity to prepare a case.

The President of the Family Court ruled that the “ruthlessly truncated process” employed by the earlier judge in the case – who had admitted he was motivated by a desire to embrace family justice reforms designed to encourage adoption – was “unprincipled and unfair”.

 

Well, that’s the His Honour Judge Dodds case, where he made Care Orders at the very first hearing (i.e in week one) in order to beat the week 26 target, even though nobody in the case had asked him to do that and there was no final evidence filed by anyone. That’s not a warning to Judges not to make adoption orders – that’s basic common sense that a Judge who behaves in a way that is utterly unfair is going to get overruled. Nobody with any common sense looked at that case and felt that it had worrying implications for adoption cases, or that it meant that children should be ‘suffering in unsuitable and unsafe homes” –  If you read this piece and think “Well, I don’t know why the Court of Appeal had any problem with what the Judge did” then I’m not sure I can help you. http://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/02/02/sentence-first-verdict-afterwards/

 

What’s the next ‘confusing’ ruling?  (I wasn’t in any way confused by the last one) – this one apparently had a “similar chilling effect on Local Authorities desire to expedite adoption cases” as the His Honour Judge Dodds one did.  (not that it should have done – the Dodds one wasn’t even about adoption)

 

Another case decided in January is understood to have had a similar chilling effect on local authorities’ desire to expedite adoption cases. Mr Justice Keehan ruled that Northamptonshire County Council had made “egregious failures” in its handling of the case of a baby taken into care without proper assessments of the mother or the maternal grandparents in Latvia. The baby was eventually placed with his maternal grandparents.

I wrote about that one too – you may pick up a slightly different tone from the title of the piece http://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/02/03/unfortunate-and-woeful-local-authority-failings/

This was just an old-fashioned Local Authority f**k-up. Sorry to anyone involved, but that’s what it was. This wasn’t a case where Local Authorities read it and it had a chilling effect on them, making them think “gosh, if social workers are getting told off for this exemplary work, then we may as well pack it in and let children suffer in unsuitable and unsafe homes” – it was one that you read and thought “If you f**ked up as royally as that, you are going to get the judicial ass-whupping that they got”.   There’s nothing in that case that would make anyone think “well, I really think in my heart of hearts that this child should be adopted, but because the law has done something weird and stupid, I guess I’ll have to leave the child to suffer in an unsuitable and unsafe home”

[Yes, I’m hammering home that phrase, because I think it is seriously misleading]

If there are Local Authorities, or social workers (and I really doubt it) that took the His Honour Judge Dodds decision and the Northamptonshire decision and interpreted them as ‘adoption is even harder to get now’  rather than ‘if you really screw something up, expect not to get away with it” then these articles are doing a great public service in correcting that total misapprehension and interpretation of the law.

Anything else?

 

No, there are no other “chilling” or “confusing” cases cited.  That’s a shame, because one could make a case for the President’s decision in Re A fits the bill far better than the two examples they have chosen.  http://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/02/17/a-tottering-edifice-built-on-inadequate-foundations/

 

For a start, it is a case where a Local Authority asked for adoption and didn’t get it – and walked away with nothing but a flea in their ear. More than that, it is a case where what looked like perfectly decent threshold criteria (the concerns that a Local Authority have to prove exist in order to get an order) was torn to bits by the Judge. And finally, it had principles and issues which affected all cases, not just the particular one being decided (unlike the two examples that were used), and there is a distinct possibility that that bar was raised, making Care Orders (and hence indirectly Placement Orders and hence adoptions) more difficult to obtain, since it is now harder to prove that the threshold is met.

But once again, the law is not saying that children ought to suffer in unsuitable and unsafe homes. It is saying that where a Local Authority says that a child should live somewhere else, they need to produce proper evidence and analysis to show WHY their home would be unsuitable and unsafe. Re B-S and Re A are not saying that adoption isn’t the right outcome for some children, but they are saying that where the State (whether that be a social worker or a Judge) is taking a child permanently away from a parent, the least that society can expect is that they both work very hard and have proper evidence and reasons for why that has to happen.

Perhaps when the stats do come out, the adoption figures really will have ‘fallen off a cliff’, just as the article claims.  Perhaps that is because social workers, lawyers, Agency Decision Makers and Judges are paralysed by chilling and confusing case law. But it might be that the numbers were too high before, and proper scrutiny of the evidence and proper analysis of what is really involved has meant that we aren’t placing children for adoption unless the proper tests are met.

 

Sometimes, an initial look at something can make you chilled and scared, and even want to throw stones. But a longer more detailed careful consideration can make you realise that Jaime Lannister kicks ass y’all, and that a Lannister always pays his debts.

 

Plus, he has a gold hand. A hand made of gold. What's not to like?

Plus, he has a gold hand. A hand made of gold. What’s not to like?

Re R – is B-S dead?

 

That’s the Court of Appeal case that we’ve been talking about all week.  It happened to come in time for my deadline for my Family Law column, so my analysis of it is over there.

 

I know not all of you read Family Law, so here is the link.

 

In very short terms, the Court of Appeal layeth the smackdown on those people who were pushing, stretching and exagerrating Re B-S to be an authority for “leave no stone unturned, climb every mountain, ford every stream – till you avoid adoption, that’s B-S’s dream”.   BUT  Re B, and Hale’s formulation stands – the President specifically says that Courts can’t make a Placement Order unless satisfied that Lady Hale’s formulation applies, and every single bit of content in Re B-S still applies.  In a nutshell, Re R says to advocates, don’t take bad points and don’t appeal on flimsy technicalities based on your notion of what a post Re B-S judgment looks like.

 

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/view-from-the-foot-of-the-tower-two-steps-forward-two-steps-back#.VJLA_3vzOud

Nothing else will do – In which Nails are placed in coffins, and heads of pins are danced upon

 

The third Court of Appeal decision in a month to backtrack from “nothing else will do” and this one does so very powerfully. (previous two Re MH and Re M, both blogged about last month)

 

To the point of saying that it is not a test.

 

In case you are pushed for time to read this, I’m afraid that you still have to write/read all the analysis of the various options, and the Court still have to consider those options and analyse them, but the Court of Appeal say that “nothing else will do” isn’t a test, but a process of deductive reasoning.

 

In case you are new to the whole adoption debate, then welcome, and in a nutshell there appears in the last year to have been a tension between the Government (pushing a pro adoption agenda, including telling social workers to stop thinking of adoption as a last resort) and the senior judiciary, who have been mindful of the principle that adoption is a last resort.

 

 

Even the President of the Family Division has acknowledged this tension

 

 

http://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=18284:top-judge-recognises-tension-over-court-rulings-and-guidance-on-adoption&catid=54:childrens-services-articles

 

 

the Department for Education said: “The local authorities that are most successful in finding adoptive families for looked after children will generally be those with a very clear care planning process that always considers adoption as a possible permanence option and not an option of last resort.”

 

Asked about the issue by Local Government Lawyer at a press conference yesterday (29 April), Sir James responded: “Under our system Parliament makes the law in passing a statute. Parliament, I emphasise; not the Government. It’s Parliament that legislates. It is for the judges to decide what the statute means.

 

The Supreme Court has ruled what it believes the statute means and under our system that is the definitive judicial view but of course under our system the relevant statutes can be changed as Parliament wishes to do so.”

 

But the President added: “I’d be foolish not to acknowledge as I do that there is a clear tension between what the Supreme Court said in Re B in the summer of last year and what the Government had said in guidance which it issued only a few months before in the spring of last year…..

 

“So there is a tension there but under our system Parliament makes the law; the judges interpret the law and if Parliament does not agree with the judges’ interpretation of the statute they passed, then the remedy is for Parliament to change the law.”

 

The Family President added: “In saying that I think I’ve acknowledged that there is that tension there. But I appreciate that on the ground, as it were, for the directors of social services; for the social workers dealing with adoption cases; it must be slightly difficult to know exactly what they should be doing given that tension.”

 

 

 

You might want to put a mental Post-it Note on the President (the lead author of Re B-S) saying THIS

 

The Supreme Court has ruled what it believes the statute means and under our system that is the definitive judicial view

 

Because the Court of Appeal (Ryder LJ lead judgment) are currently saying THIS

 

 

Turning then to the issue in this appeal. I do not accept that Re B and Re B-S re-draw the statutory landscape. The statutory test has not changed. I have set it out at [26] above. It is unhelpful to add any gloss to that statutory test as the gloss tends to cause the test to be substituted by other words or concepts.

 

 

Have fun reconciling those two things.

 

The case is CM v Blackburn with Darwin Council 2014 (lead judgment Ryder LJ)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1479.html

 

 

The point of the appeal was an issue that immediately came into most people’s minds following Re B-S – dual planning.

 

It is not (or was not) unusual, to see a care plan that said “we will search for an adoptive placement for the child for 6 months, and if that is not successful, then a foster placement will be found”

 

As a matter of law, based on the principle of “nothing else will do”, how could a Court say that fostering would not do in order to make the Placement Order, when the plan envisages fostering being a possible outcome? Either it is permissible to say “adoption is better than fostering for this child, but both would do”   or on a strict interpretation of “nothing else will do” the Court should reject the Placement Order as there is clearly something else that will do (fostering, explicitly provided for in the dual care plan as the fallback)

 

The Local Authority in such cases aren’t saying that fostering won’t meet the needs of the child, it is saying that adoption is a BETTER way of meeting those needs. (which for me is fine and common sense – they have to make the case, but a Court should have that discretion)

 

Is that compatible with “nothing else will do” ?

 

Well, given cases in October (and cough, the adoption figures and political uproar), it is not surprising that the Court of Appeal say “yes, dual planning is compatible with the law”

 

 

 

Here’s what they have to say about “nothing else will do”   (and it is not only a major shift, but it probably makes large parts of the Myth-Busting document now accurate, or at least more accurate than it was before this judgment was published – so it was a fortune-telling document as well as a Myth-Busting one)

 

 

Turning then to the issue in this appeal. I do not accept that Re B and Re B-S re-draw the statutory landscape. The statutory test has not changed. I have set it out at [26] above. It is unhelpful to add any gloss to that statutory test as the gloss tends to cause the test to be substituted by other words or concepts. The test remains untouched but the court’s approach to the evidence needed to satisfy the test and the approach of practitioners to the existing test without doubt needed revision. That can be seen in graphic form in the comments of the President in Re B-S at [30]

 

“we have real concerns about the recurrent inadequacy of the analysis of reasoning put forward in support of the case for adoption, both in the materials put before the court by local authorities and guardians and also in too many judgments. This is nothing new, but it is time to call a halt.”

 

 

 

Yes, you have read that right – the Court of Appeal are now calling nothing else will do an unnecessary gloss on the statutory test. A gloss that a year ago they were embracing and thrusting on us all. We are rewriting history here – in the words of Kevin Costner “We’re through the looking glass here, people”.

 

 

Someone else might hear make a cruel remark about irony and unfortunate glosses to statute, but that would be beneath me.

 

 

The Court of Appeal goes on

 

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.

 

 

(That will delight the Government and Mr Narey – as this is their line. But go on, please)

 

 

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.

 

 

[You may be seeing here that there is no mention of the least interventionist order, last resort, draconian nature of the order – that’s all bound up here in proportionality. But it is fairly pivotal and important that it was the specific issue of whether adoption was a proportionate answer and the circumstances in which it might be that led to the ECHR decision in Y v UK which was at the heart of Re B and Re B-S. It is a strange omission, and one which is also conspicuous by its absence in the Myth-Busting document]

 

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.

 

 

“nothing else will do” is not a test – that noise you may hear as you read this is your eyes rolling. It is just a description of the process of deductive reasoning. Therefore, if the Judge has carried out the balancing exercise and answers the question “Am I satisfied that nothing else but adoption will do?” with a “No”, can he or she make the Placement Order? If it is not a test, but just a description of a process, then possibly.

 

I mean, this is just flat out strange – the Supreme Court made themselves rather plain, I thought. But now we are told that this is not in fact a test, and we should just read the word as ‘requires’

 

I’ll deviate for a moment

 

Supreme Court, Re B June 2013. http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed114409

 

We are all familiar with Lady Hale’s key paragraphs, but I’ll set them out, because they seem to be vanishing before our eyes. Note that on the issue of “nothing else will do” she says that all of the Supreme Court Judges agree on that. And she is right. Although she gave a minority judgment in the case overall (i.e whether the Judge had got the individual case right or wrong), on this aspect, these paragraphs reflect the decision of the Supreme Court.

 

  1. Perhaps above all, however, this case raises the issue of when it is proper for an appellate court to interfere in the decisions of the trial judge who has heard and read all the evidence and reached his conclusions after careful cogitation following many days of hearing in court and face-to-face contact with the people involved. We all agree that an appellate court can interfere if satisfied that the judge was wrong. We also all agree that a court can only separate a child from her parents if satisfied that it is necessary to do so, that “nothing else will do”.

 

 

  1. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that the test for severing the relationship between parent and child is very strict: only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do.

 

  1. But that is not the end of the story. 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.

 

 

 

Let’s now look at the words of the President in Re B-S on this issue

 

  1. Section 52(1)(b) of the 2002 Act provides, as we have seen, that the consent of a parent with capacity can be dispensed with only if the welfare of the child “requires” this. “Require” here has the Strasbourg meaning of necessary, “the connotation of the imperative, what is demanded rather than what is merely optional or reasonable or desirable”: Re P (Placement Orders: Parental Consent) [2008] EWCA Civ 535, [2008] 2 FLR 625, paras 120, 125. This is a stringent and demanding test.

 

  1. Just how stringent and demanding has been spelt out very recently by the Supreme Court in In re B (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Threshold Criteria) [2013] UKSC 33, [2013] 1 WLR 1911. The significance of Re B was rightly emphasised in two judgments of this court handed down on 30 July 2013: Re P (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 963, para 102 (Black LJ), and Re G (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 965, paras 29-31 (McFarlane LJ). As Black LJ put it in Re P, Re B is a forceful reminder of just what is required.

 

  1. The language used in Re B is striking. Different words and phrases are used, but the message is clear. Orders contemplating non-consensual adoption – care orders with a plan for adoption, placement orders and adoption orders – 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 where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do”: see Re B paras 74, 76, 77, 82, 104, 130, 135, 145, 198, 215.

 

 

 

And

 

  1. It is time to draw the threads together and to spell out what good practice, the 2002 Act and the Convention all demand.

 

 

 

All of these “striking” words, we are now told, were not intended to amount to any change in the legal test or a gloss on the statute. Anybody interpreting the word ‘require’ in the wording of the statute as now incorporating those principles is just wrong, or that a Judge is expected to answer a question about whether “nothing else will do but adoption” is wrong.

.

 

52 (1)The court cannot dispense with the consent of any parent or guardian of a child to the child being placed for adoption or to the making of an adoption order in respect of the child unless the court is satisfied that— .

(a)the parent or guardian cannot be found or is incapable of giving consent, or .

(b)the welfare of the child requires the consent to be dispensed with.

 

Re B-S is thus, presumably, case management guidance rather than law. One wonders, if that’s the case, why it wasn’t all set out in a Practice Direction rather than a judgment, given that the primary author of Re B-S had the power to do that. [I don’t believe for a second that Re B-S wasn’t intended as an authority that Judges who failed to properly engage with proportionality and necessity and the Re B principles would be at risk of appeal]

 

 

I will give a caveat to all of this – I’m sure that there were very good Judges up and down the country who were grappling with these issues in their judgments before Re B, and were properly considering the pros and cons of adoption and were not doing as criticised in Re G by a linear process of “if I’ve ruled out mum, dad and grandparents, what is left is adoption, so adoption IS the last resort”. For those very good Judges, Re B and Re B-S didn’t really change the way they were doing those judgments and making their decisions. But it was very plain from the volume of successful appeals that there were Judges who weren’t.

 

(And I don’t think that those were bad judges or flawed judges – it was rather that it had become general practice to use that linear model and it was only once McFarlane LJ highlighted the inherent flaws in it in Re G that some shifted.   From the published judgments that I have read on Bailii in the last year, a surprising number of placement order judgments still fail to do that and simply replace analysis by quoting large chunks of the caselaw and saying “I have considered this” thus failing to see the point that the Court of Appeal appear to have been making in their condemnation of stock phrases and judicial window-dressing)

 

Were Re B and Re B-S new law, a fresh interpretation of the word ‘requires’ in the statute, or a gloss? Or were they as is being suggested now, a reinforcement and reminder of the existing law containing nothing fresh other than case-management guidance? We could dance on the head of a pin forever on that one.

 

If it was nothing fresh, it is surprising that so many successful appeals were happening last autumn and winter …

 

 

 

Back to the Court of Appeal in this particular case.

 

 

The words of Lord Nicholls in In re B (A Minor) (Adoption: Natural Parent) [2001] UKHL 70, [20012] 1 WLR 258 cited with approval in the Supreme Court in Re B remain apposite:

 

“[16] … There is no objectively certain answer on which two or more possible courses is in the best interests of a child. In all save the most straightforward cases, there are competing factors, some pointing one way and some another. There is no means of demonstrating that one answer is clearly right and another clearly wrong. There are too many uncertainties involved in what, after all, is an attempt to peer into the future and assess the advantages and disadvantages which this or that course will or may have for the child.”

This court has on two recent occasions highlighted the way in which the proportionality evaluation is being misconstrued by practitioners. In each case practitioners were reminded to use the concept that was described by the Supreme Court in Re B. In M-H (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 1396 Macur LJ at [8] said:

 

“…I note that the terminology frequently deployed in arguments to this court and, no doubt to those at first instance, omit a significant element of the test as framed by both the Supreme Court and this court, which qualifies the literal interpretation of “nothing else will do”. That is, the orders are to be made “only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by the overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s best interests.” (See In Re B, paragraph 215)….”

In Re M (A Child) (Long Term Foster Care) [2014] EWCA Civ 1406 Black LJ said:

 

“What is necessary is a complex question requiring an evaluation of all of the circumstances. As Lord Neuberger said at [77] of Re B, speaking of a care order which in that case would be very likely to result in the child being adopted:

 

“It seems to me inherent in section 1(1) [Children Act 1989] that a care order should be the last resort, because the interests of the child would self- evidently require her relationship with her natural parents to be maintained unless no other course was possible in her interests. ” (my emphasis)

 

I emphasise the last phrase of that passage (“in her interests”) because it is an important reminder that what has to be determined is not simply whether any other course is possible but whether there is another course which is possible and in the child’s interests.”

With respect, I agree.

 

It is in the very nature of placement proceedings that in many of them there will be alternative options that are at least hypothetically feasible and which may have some merit. The fact that, after consideration of the evidence, the court on an analysis of the options chooses adoption over another option does not mean that such a choice is tainted because something else may have been reasonable and available. The whole purpose of a proportionality evaluation is to respect the rights that are engaged and cross check the welfare evaluation i.e. the decision is not just whether A is better than B, it is also whether A can be justified as an interference with the rights of those involved. That is of critical importance to the way in which evidence is collated and presented and the way in which the court analyses and evaluates it.

 

My answers to the questions posed by Mr Rowley are as follows:

 

  1. a) The judge’s methodology was right. She conducted a fact finding exercise, a welfare analysis of each realistic option, a comparative welfare evaluation and a proportionality evaluation.
  2. b) The statutory tests are not re-drawn. ‘Nothing else will do’ is the conclusion of a proportionality evaluation after a process of deductive reasoning not a new presumption and not a standard of proof.
  3. c) It is not necessary to have a contingency in a care plan although it is desirable. A timetable within which a local authority have to implement a substantive order once proceedings have concluded is beyond the jurisdiction of the court and is not part of the prescribed content of a care plan.
  4. d) Recognising the possibility of failure by a contingency plan is appropriate. That is quite different from deciding that something other than adoption is required.
  5. e) There is no objection in principle to dual planning in an appropriate case. This case was appropriate because the placement decision was neither conditional upon the happening of an event nor the success of some extraneous process such as therapy. It was not a decision that one of two options would do.

 

 

 

I think the CoA go further here than in the last two cases – in those, there was still a concept that “nothing else will do” being a test, albeit a more nuanced test in which the words meant “nothing else that will properly meet the needs of the child”

 

Here, they say explicitly

 

The fact that, after consideration of the evidence, the court on an analysis of the options chooses adoption over another option does not mean that such a choice is tainted because something else may have been reasonable and available

 

That’s not saying that the Court rejected the other options, or ruled them out, or concluded that they were not capable of meeting the child’s needs. That is outright saying that even with a reasonable and available option, adoption can still be the choice of the Court.

 

Although in saying

 

Recognising the possibility of failure by a contingency plan is appropriate. That is quite different from deciding that something other than adoption is required.

 

And

 

It was not a decision that one of two options would do.

 

 

Are they in fact saying that there WASN’T a judicial acceptance that long-term fostering was capable of meeting the child’s needs and that the Court was just approving the plan of adoption by rejecting all of the other options and that long-term fostering was not a plan, but a contingency in the care plan that the Court wasn’t required to consider?

 

That’s one way of reading the Court of Appeal’s answers to those questions which still IS compatible with the nuanced / glossed “nothing else will do”   (there is no other option that is capable of meeting this child’s needs in a satisfactory way). I wouldn’t have much quarrel if the case had been decided in that narrow way – it seems to me that you could resolve it by deciding that adoption was the plan, making a Placement Order and advising the LA that a revocation application should be lodged if the plan is formally to be changed.

 

Let us be honest, in a care plan of “search for adoption for 6 months, if unsuccessful long-term foster care”, which of those two things is the ‘last resort’?   It isn’t adoption, that’s the first preference. Long-term fostering there is the last resort. When the Court makes a Placement Order in those circumstances, it really isn’t saying that adoption is the last resort; it is saying that adoption is a better way of meeting the child’s needs than the other available alternative. [Which arguably just falls under s1 of the Children Act and is a good thing, but in that case, the talk of ‘last resort’ is a sham]

 

 

 

Why, one might almost think, if one was very cynical, that the fact that Re B looked like it was heading for the ECHR led the Court of Appeal to take pre-emptive action to bolster adoption before any ECHR decision “look, we’re being proportionate!”   and now that we know Re B isn’t going to the ECHR and the practical import is being seen, there’s a backtrack.

 

I mean, I myself am not that sort of cynical person, so that of course isn’t what’s happened.

 

What has happened is that we naughty, dastardly lawyers have deliberately confused the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal saying that for the wording of the statute, “requires” means literally nothing else will do, and taken that to be a test to be followed, whereas all they meant was the quality of evidence needed for a Judge to be satisfied that the child’s welfare ‘requires’ that parental consent be dispensed with is higher.

 

And all of those successful appeals based on that point were… I’m afraid that my imagination is breaking down there and I can’t find a plausible explanation why those appeals were allowed if the position really is and always was what the Court of Appeal now say.

 

Why weren’t they rejecting all those appeals and saying “no, people have got this wrong, nothing else will do doesn’t mean that at all?”

 

If we can be honest again for a moment, imagine that a Judge in a Placement Order case in September 2013, or even September 2014 had said “I have been referred to the cases of Re B and Re B-S, but I don’t need to follow those and I am sticking to the law exactly as it was in 2012”   would the Court of Appeal have backed that

Who you gonna call? Myth-busters

 

 
There’s been quite a lot of publicity about Martin Narey’s Myth-Busting document on adoption, following the recent adoption statistics taking a hit – something that any one who had been reading the case law in the last 18 months had seen coming a country mile away.

Apparently that’s all just a misunderstanding by dopey Local Authority social workers and lawyers, and it is all our fault.   The Court of Appeal overturning case after case last summer had nothing to do with it.
[Tim Loughton, the former Children’s Minister instead says that the problems are due to Judges sulking about legal aid cuts and slowing things down deliberately. At least, according to the Telegraph he said that. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11224155/Judges-resentment-toward-Government-adding-to-adoption-slump-ex-minister-warns.html ]

 

http://www.adcs.org.uk/download/resources/adoption/ALB%20-%20Impact%20of%20Court%20Judgments%20on%20Adoption%20-%20November%202014.pdf

The national Adoption Leadership Board, Family Justice Board, and the Department for Education have heard regularly that these changes are a response to a number of high profile court judgments on care and adoption order cases, notably Re B and Re B-S. Some of this feedback suggests a degree of misinterpretation of these judgments. This appears to have resulted in inaccurate assumptions being made about the judgments which, in reality, do not alter the legal basis for the making of care and placement orders.

 

The document discusses the two recent cases from October, where the Court of Appeal distanced themselves from a literal interpretation of “nothing else will do” – explaining in Ben Goldacre’s phrase “I think you’ll find its a little more complicated than that”

If the Myth-Busting document were confining itself to commentary that the deluge of appeals last summer were something of a blip and we have settled down from a strictly literal interpretation of Baroness Hale’s “nothing else will do” phrase to something rather more nuanced, then I’d be fine with it.  Or even “rumours of the death of adoption have been greatly exagerrated”

Though frankly, no matter how senior the senior QC, I’d prefer to hear the Court of Appeal say “just ignore BS, it changes nothing” than to take it from a document with no legal status or weight.

 

I don’t care for the implication that Re B and Re B-S weren’t a shift in emphasis and culture – that’s to completely ignore just about everything that Hale and Neuberger said about the nature of adoption in Re B, to ignore the ECHR in Y v UK when they said this :-

 

“family ties may only be severed in very exceptional circumstances and … everything must be done to preserve personal relations and, where appropriate, to ‘rebuild’ the family. It is not enough to show that a child could be placed in a more beneficial environment for his upbringing.”

 

or that the Court of Appeal meant nothing of substance whatsoever when they said this

 

“a process which acknowledges that long-term public care, and in particular adoption contrary to the will of a parent, is ‘the most draconian option’, yet does not engage with the very detail of that option which renders it ‘draconian’ cannot be a full or effective process of evaluation. Since the phrase was first coined some years ago, judges now routinely make reference to the ‘draconian’ nature of permanent separation of parent and child and they frequently do so in the context of reference to ‘proportionality’. Such descriptions are, of course, appropriate and correct, but there is a danger that these phrases may inadvertently become little more than formulaic judicial window-dressing if they are not backed up with a substantive consideration of what lies behind them and the impact of that on the individual child’s welfare in the particular case before the court. If there was any doubt about the importance of avoiding that danger, such doubt has been firmly swept away by the very clear emphasis in Re B on the duty of the court actively to evaluate proportionality in every case.”

If you think that has had no alteration on the legal basis for the making of Placement Orders, then I’m afraid we’ll have to disagree.  Does it change the tests in the Act? No, absolutely not. But as the Supreme Court made plain in Re B, proportionality is now a key ingredient in assessing such decisions.  And the interpretation of the word ‘requires’ in the Adoption and Children Act 2002  is now inextricably bound up with proportionality and article 8.  And the move away from linear judgments (whereby adoption ended up looking like the best option simply because all the others had been ruled out before the Court thought about adoption at all) from Re G is unquestionably an alteration to the legal basis for the making of Placement Orders.

If instead you mean – the combination of all that law should not mean that children who ought to have been adopted in 2012 shouldn’t be adopted now – the law is about making professionals and Judges work much harder on clarity of thought and reasoning, I wouldn’t entirely disagree  (I think that’s Baker J’s take, and I rate Baker J very highly).  I think there’s a very important debate to be had about whether Hale and the Court of Appeal wanted adoption to be harder to get for children, or harder to get for PROFESSIONALS.

But whether the “bar” has been raised or not, the legal basis has certainly changed – a judgment that would have passed muster in 2012 would not today.

 

And I completely agree with the document on Myth 4

MYTH 4 – because it is a “last resort” planning for adoption must wait
23. Local authorities should plan at the earliest possible stage for the possibility of adoption where it seems possible that other options – such as reunification with family, or care by family or friends – might not prove a realistic course of action

That does not mean pre-empting any decision. Nor does it remove the need to provide expert, high quality, evidence-based assessments of all realistic options to the court – which is essential in every case. But planning ahead is necessary to avoid delay and allows for a more timely process in achieving the right outcome for the child.
Absolutely right. I fully agree.  One out of five Myths successfully Busted. The others, rather less so.

 

 

I had a long long diatribe, but I’m going to confine myself just to Myth Five.

Let’s just take Myth number 5 in detail.

MYTH 5 – the 26 week rule applies to placement orders
24. Under the law as it came into force on 22 April 2014, any application for a care order or a supervision order must be completed within 26 weeks (unless the court is satisfied that delay is necessary, in which case a court may grant an extension). Placement order applications are not subject to the 26 week time limit. However, if the case is one in which the care plan is for adoption, if it is possible to complete the placement order application within the 26 week time limit, then that is likely to be in the best interests of the child, as we know that delay damages children.
If one takes each individual word, it seems true and accurate. But it doesn’t actually represent reality. The suggestion here is that Placement Order applications are free of the 26 week shackles, though it is good to get it done in that time if possible. The implication is that you can do Placement Orders in a timescale that is the child’s timescale, free of 26 week confinement.

That’s just not actually true in a meaningful way.
Yes, under the law as it came into force on 22nd April 2014 the 26 week timetable applies to care order applications, not placement order applications.

But the Act and the law are not the same things. They aren’t identical.

You can’t seek a Care Order with a plan of adoption unless you have got approval from the Agency Decision-Maker. And if you’ve got approval from the Agency Decision-Maker, you are in a position to lodge your placement order.

So if the Local Authority HAVE to hit a 26 week timetable (really 17 weeks for them, because they have to provide their evidence BEFORE the end of the case to let others respond to it) for their Care Order, then in any case where there’s a PLAN for adoption, then the same timetable applies.

 

Don’t take my word for it – let’s look at what the Court of Appeal said in a judgment that is utterly missing from the Myth-Busting document

Surrey County Council v S 2014

There was no reason why the local authority could not have obtained the agency decision maker’s decision in this case. They could then have commenced placement order proceedings to run concurrently with the care proceedings. That would have been fairer to the mother who has no automatic legal aid to oppose placement order proceedings. A concurrent hearing of care and placement order applications also helps to prevent the error of linear decision making because the court has all of the evidence about the welfare options before it. Indeed, I would go further: in order for the agency decision maker to make a lawful decision that the children be placed for adoption, the Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 (as amended) must be complied with. For that purpose, the agency decision maker has a detailed ‘permanence report’ which describes the realistic placement options for the child including extended family and friends. The report describes the local authority’s assessment of those options. When a decision is then made by the agency decision maker it is based on a holistic non-linear evaluation of those options. That decision leads to evidence being filed in placement order proceedings. It is good practice for that evidence to include the permanence report used by the agency decision maker, the record or minute of the decision made and a report known as an ‘annex A’ report which is a statutory construct which summarises the options and gives information to the court on the suitability of the adoptive applicants. All of this permits the court to properly evaluate the adoption placement proposal by comparison with the other welfare options.

•In care proceedings where the local authority are proposing a care plan with a view to an adoptive placement, the court is likely to be missing important evidence and analysis if the placement order proceedings are considered separately. Furthermore, without the agency decision maker’s decision, any care plan based on an adoptive proposal cannot be carried into effect. It is likely to be inchoate or at least conditional on a decision not yet made and the outcome of which cannot be assumed. I make no criticism of the key social worker or the children’s guardian in this case. Their materials were of high quality but necessarily, without the agency decision maker’s decision, they could not present a full analysis of the factors in section1(4) of the 2002 Act and could do no more than pay lip service to the proposed adoption plan of the local authority and the interference with family life that it would have entailed.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/601.html

[This case sticks out in my mind because it was Ryder LJ giving the lead judgment and I wholly agreed with it. That gave it a veneer of uniqueness that makes it easy to recall]

And of course, we are seeing right now with Re D that having a stand-alone Placement Order application (which is the practical import of Myth number 5 if we believe what Narey’s document is telling us) leads to the parents being unrepresented for the most draconian order that can be made. Article 6 anyone?

Myth 5 is not correct in any meaningful way – Care and Placement Orders are now inextricably bound up together and so, therefore are their timetables.

When the document says that it is a myth that 26 weeks apply to Placement Orders, that’s just not correct in any meaningful way in the real world. If you want to seek a Placement Order, you’re going to be doing it on a 26 week timetable, or persuading the Court to grant a s32(5) extension of that timetable in accordance with Re S.

 

Bustin’ makes me feel good.

 

 

I’ll quickly say that when the Myth-Busting document says of Re B-S  The judgment does not make it easier to obtain permission to oppose an application for an adoption order. The test remains the welfare of the child throughout his or her life.  

 

That simply holds no water when you look at the cases – pre B-S no successful leave to oppose, after B-S they are rare but happening.  An adoption order being discharged so that the argument could be re-heard, for example (Re W) On the ground, we’ve gone from leave applications being very unusual to every other adoption application having one.  And reports now of successful leave to oppose cases leading very close to a successful opposition (the High Court saying that it was only due to the exceptional circumstances and facts of the individual case that led to the father’s preference of a Special Guardianship Order not being the final outcome Re N (a child) 2014 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2014/1491.html I have already indicated that this is an exceptional case. If it were not an exceptional case, I doubt whether an adoption order would have been appropriate )

 

The major plank of LA opposition to leave to oppose applications pre B-S – the impact on the carers of the application, which usually defeated such applications without more, is now rarely deployed, because Re B-S altered the principle dramatically in highlighting that the child’s welfare is not a short term thing, or even during childhood but is to be extended to consider his or her entire adult life.

 

So far as Busting is concerned, this is less Peter Venkman and more this dude  (a figment of the imagination)

 

There is no Narey, there is only Zuul

There is no Narey, there is only Zuul

Why is there something instead of nothing?

 

An age-old philosophical question, and one that every generation finds for itself – I myself remember playground arguments when I was about seven – “If God made everything, then who made God? And who made the person who made God?”    [But then I also remember being taken to the Deputy Head’s Office for a fist-fight about whether the Beatles were better than Elvis]

 

I shall pass that question over to Brian Cox, who can answer it more ably than I can and also with a boyish charm that I would lack. (I think my favourite scientific answer is from Alan Guth “The universe is simply one of those things that happen from time to time”

 

But for our legal purposes, the ‘something instead of nothing’ debate is focussing on adoption, and the soundbite formulation that it appears that the Court of Appeal may be deeply regretting that a Court can’t make a Placement Order unless satisfied that “nothing else will do”

 

Understandably, if you tell a group of lawyers that the test is “nothing else will do”, half of them will find something and argue that if there is something then there can’t also be nothing.  Something else and nothing else are mutually exclusive, surely.

 

The Court of Appeal are in a process of refinement (or retreat, if you want to be mean)

 

Last week, we had Re M H   http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/10/29/nothing-else-will-do-court-of-appeal-clarification/

 

This one is Re M (A child : Long-Term Foster Care) 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1406.html

 

 

We don’t need to go into the whys and wherefores of why the child couldn’t be with mum, but save to say that it was quite plain that (a) she had problems that she couldn’t fix on her own (b) The therapy that she would need to fix the problems would take at least two years and (c) it wasn’t clear whether she would be fixed at the end.

 

The LA were saying – the timescales for change and prognosis for change mean that the child can’t wait for the mother to make those changes, and thus nothing else than adoption will do.

 

The mother’s case seems to have been that the Court should embark on a course of therapy, see how the first 6 months had gone and THEN make the decision.

 

The Court instead arrived at a “something” which involved the child being in foster care, subject to a Care Order until such time as mother was ruled as being capable of meeting the child’s needs.

 

[That sentence probably has a mixed response. If you are English or Welsh AND a lawyer or social worker, you’ll think it is nuts. If you are a parent, you’ll think it sounds fair. If you are a Scottish lawyer or social worker, you might think it sounds reasonable, because that’s an approach that is foreign to England and Wales but something that occasionally happens in Scotland.]

 

 

This was a case in which the Recorder had given three judgments, at various stages (the final judgment, an addendum giving clarification and then a judgment on the LA’s application for permission to appeal).

 

As the Court of Appeal illustrate, the reasoning is not perhaps ideal when you lay the three judgments alongside each other. My first draft used the word ‘inconsistent’ but the Court of Appeal say that to call it inconsistent is inappropriate, so I changed my words.

 

 

21. The Recorder’s three judgments do not sit easily together and nor does his thinking emerge clearly from them. There are, on the face of it, inconsistencies in what he says. I am not entirely sure whether this is because he was inconsistent in his thinking or because, in so far as his true reasoning emerged, it only did so gradually over the course of the three judgments.

 

22. I can illustrate what I mean by contrasting the end of the permission judgment with the earlier judgments. Concluding the permission judgment, the Recorder expressed himself in a way which suggested that he saw foster care as catering for the next two years or so, until the possibility of L returning to live with M had been fully explored. In the earlier judgments, in contrast, there was, at times, a sense that he contemplated that L would remain in foster care for the rest of her childhood, probably reflecting a different strand of his thinking which was about the importance of continuing the relationship between L and her parents through contact. The end of the permission judgment reads:

 

“This is a case where it will become apparent in 2 years or perhaps less whether M will be able to care for her daughter, when it is established if she will respond to therapy/treatment. If therapy and treatment is successful, M will be able to apply to discharge the care order. If, as foreseen by Dr Penny, there is a possibility, if not a strong possibility, that therapy fails (sic)…. LA can then make a fresh application for a placement order.”

 

23. The first judgment, in contrast, included passages such as those which I have set out below, which I think show that the Recorder was considering long-term foster care with contact as an option in its own right which would potentially endure throughout L’s childhood, albeit that there are some allusions suggesting that he may also have had in mind the possibility of a return to M’s care following therapy (see for example, §64 and the end of §74). The first two passages show the importance that the Recorder attached to continuing contact and the final one appears to be contemplating indefinite long-term foster care in order to maintain that contact:

 

“I find that the particular needs of L for the present are for her to be cared for in a ‘secure, warm and loving family that is able to meet all her needs’ and, crucially, for continuing the existing and loving relationships with her birth parents by way of direct contact.” (§72, my emphasis)

“I am also concerned that L will interpret being cut off from M as being a ‘punishment’ for having behaved wrongly…. “(§73)

“I do not think that this analysis [the guardian’s analysis of the shortcomings of long term foster care] places sufficient weight on the importance of maintaining direct contact with her parents. It is an evaluation which does not explain why long term foster care ‘will not do’, to paraphrase, slightly, the words of Baroness Hale in a number of cases. I accept that foster placements may not be as stable or secure as adoption orders, but some succeed, just as some adoptions fail. There is no reason for the local authority to be unnecessarily intrusive in a long term fostering placement. She should be able to enjoy a relatively normal childhood, save that she would be seeing her birth parents during contact, rather than living with one or other of them.” (§78)

 

24. In the second judgment, which the Recorder expressly did not intend to affect his conclusions in his first judgment (§81), there are passages which seem to merge the idea of long-term foster care as a freestanding option and foster care as a way of preserving the possibility of a return to M. This can be seen, for example, in §88 where the Recorder commented that the social worker had not considered what L’s wishes would have been if she had been offered the option of “long term foster care with direct contact continuing and her mother receiving treatment and the possibility of return to her mother’s care if the treatment was successful”. It can also be seen in §93 where the judge comments on the Statement of Facts as follows:

 

“Again, there is no analysis of the option of long term foster care, with its benefits of continuing the strong bond between M and L and the possibility of return to her care if she successfully undergoes the therapy and other interventions.”

 

 

25. The passages that I have quoted so far leave the reader unclear as to the design that the Recorder had for long-term foster care, whether it was to be a vehicle for preserving contact or the means of providing an opportunity for a return to M if her therapy succeeded or both, but it would probably be inappropriate to describe them as inconsistent. However, I agree with LA that the Recorder’s rejection of temporary foster care as inappropriate for L at §76 is difficult to reconcile with the order that he made which, on one view, provided for just that, certainly if events were going to develop as the Recorder contemplated at the end of the permission judgment.

 

 

The option of long-term foster placement being the right option for the child was possible (and it might be possible to have made a case for the plan that the Recorder ended up with), but as the Court of Appeal say, that’s going to require a very clear and reasoned judgment

 

 

27. In the course of argument, Mr MacDonald submitted persuasively that the difficulties in the course taken by the Recorder were demonstrated in practical terms by the problem for LA in deciding what type of foster care should be chosen for L if his order were to be upheld. He had created, it was submitted, an undesirable half-way house between true long-term foster and short-term foster care which was the worst of all worlds for L. There is force in that submission. The Recorder’s plan for L had built into it uncertainty and insecurity. It also incorporated delay for a period potentially extending to 2 years. Delay, on the evidence before the Recorder (which was in familiar terms), was likely to harm L’s chances of a successful adoption placement if, ultimately, that was the proper outcome for her. Indeed, he himself accepted that a decision about whether adoption was appropriate needed to be made as soon as possible because a successful adoptive placement was more likely now than later (§72).

 

28. To justify a decision such as this would require the clearest of reasoning, particularly in the face of the very guarded prognosis for M’s therapy. I am afraid that this is absent from the Recorder’s judgments. I cannot reliably tell whether he proceeded as he did in order to leave open the possibility of L going home to one of her parents if therapy were to prove successful or because he considered that her relationship with them was such as to require preservation through contact, notwithstanding the disadvantages for L of the long-term foster care which would be the inevitable corollary of that. Furthermore, I am not confident that he gave weight to the guarded prognosis for successful therapy, or took into account the advantages for a child of her age of adoption and the disadvantages of long-term foster care, or bore in mind the advice that he had accepted at §72 (see below) as to the need to deal with the adoption question sooner rather than later. He seems to have been inclined to minimise the disadvantages of foster care, on the basis that long-term foster care would be better than short-term foster care and that LA would not be “unnecessarily intrusive in a long-term fostering placement” and L could have “a relatively normal childhood” in that context (§78). In this regard, he was, in my view, overly optimistic, not least because, with the best will in the world, LA would not be able to avoid involvement in L’s life because of their statutory duties to protect her as a looked after child.

 

 

 

But there clearly was “something” here, and “something” that the Recorder had not been satisfied should be ruled out. So, in the presence of “something” there’s an absence of the “nothing else” for the nothing else will do test, surely?

 

 

Well, no. The Court of Appeal explain that the shorthand test incorporates within it the more important concept that one is looking at [emphasis in italics is the Court of Appeal, underlining mine]

 

 

30. The “recent authorities referred to above” are Re B (a child) [2013] UKSC 33 and Re G (Care Proceedings: Welfare Evaluation) [2013] EWCA Civ 965. What is said in these authorities about the need to consider all the options and to sanction adoption only if nothing else will do must be interpreted with a careful eye to the realities of a child’s life. Delay is one of factors that always has to be taken into account in determining any question with regard to a child’s welfare, see section 1(3) Adoption and Children Act 2002 (ACA 2002) and section 1(2) Children Act 1989 (CA 1989). But whether an individual child’s welfare requires adoption depends on many other factors besides delay. A vital starting point for what those factors might be in a given case is the list in section 1(4) ACA 2002 (and its equivalent for Children Act proceedings in section 1(3) CA 1989) but these are not of course exhaustive lists. It is to be noted that the child’s age features in both of them.

 

31. The fact that speedy action will improve the prospects of a successful adoption for a particular child of a particular age must take its place in the overall appraisal of the case. Sometimes when considered with all the other factors, it will dictate that the court approves a plan for adoption of the child, even when full weight is given to the important reminders in recent cases, starting of course with Re B, that steps are only to be taken down the path towards adoption if it is necessary.

 

32. What is necessary is a complex question requiring an evaluation of all of the circumstances. As Lord Neuberger said at §77 of Re B, speaking of a care order which in that case would be very likely to result in the child being adopted:

 

“It seems to me inherent in section 1(1) [Children Act 1989] that a care order should be a last resort, because the interests of the child would self-evidently require her relationship with her natural parents to be maintained unless no other course was possible in her interests.” (my emphasis)

I emphasise the last phrase of that passage (“in her interests”) because it is an important reminder that what has to be determined is not simply whether any other course is possible but whether there is another course which is possible and in the child’s interests. This will inevitably be a much more sophisticated question and entirely dependent on the facts of the particular case. Certain options will be readily discarded as not realistically possible, others may be just about possible but not in the child’s interests, for instance because the chances of them working out are far too remote, others may in fact be possible but it may be contrary to the interests of the child to pursue them.

 

 

 

The Court of Appeal had been asked to make a Placement Order, but decided that the case needed to be resubmitted for re-hearing.

 

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.

 

That isn’t snappy, it isn’t catchy, it isn’t memorable  – but if we learned anything from the “imminent risk of really serious harm” debacle  (maybe we didn’t) it is perhaps that Courts should stick to nuance and long formulations and the statute and leave  catchy slogans to Don Draper

 

[It is therefore not Adoption > long-term fostering for the child therefore adoption, but long-term fostering being an option for the child that although possible is not in their interests]

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