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Martin Narey’s response

I wrote recently about Mr Narey’s speech to the Association of Directors of Children’s Services. He has put up a response to my response.

In order to stop us getting into an infinite regress of responses to responses, I won’t do a detailed reply.

Here is his response


Very very quick points

1. He didn’t have to do a response – I’m a very tiny fish and he swims in a proper pond with proper grown-up fish (and maybe some sharks), so respect to him for taking the time. And he did it with flair and humour, so fair play to him.

2. I think that we probably agree about more than you might think   (Adoption is the right outcome for some children, and if people are interpreting the case law of the last two years to mean that adoption is never right for any child, they’re wrong; and if the Court does make a Placement Order it is a disgrace for children to wait so long for a family and that needs fixing)

3.  I don’t think we’ll agree on what the law of the last two years is actually saying, but that’s okay.  Probably if you put ten lawyers in a room and ask them something you’d get eleven different opinions.

4. I think he accidentally puts a ‘not’ in when he’s quoting me here :- a lawyers’ job is to give advice but take instructions.

5.  I’m of course not privy to the conversations and discussions that have taken place between Mr Narey and the President. Those things are between themselves. I can only go on what the President has said in public, and there are two major sources there – firstly, his press conference where he accepted that there was a tension between the line the judiciary were taking on adoption (emphasising the nothing else will do) and the line that the Government was taking (emphasising that adoption should not be seen as a last resort) leaving Local Authorities caught in the middle and secondly his coda to Re R which can only be read as saying that the judiciary were not endorsing the Myth-Busting document.


I would genuinely like his views on the decisions since December 2014 that have moved children from prospective adopters to members of the birth family. Those are unprecedented developments, and I find it hard to think that it is coincidence that we had no such judgments from 1976 to December 2014 and four since then.  I do honestly worry about these decisions. I think that it puts prospective adopters in a scenario that they never ever wanted to be in  – a court battle fighting about where a child should live; it puts the child in a dreadful situation where they have been settled into a new home and then moved, and it puts the family in a position where the child has been placed with adopters and then returns to them and nobody can really predict the longer term impact or what support they need.  I’ve represented prospective adopters in my time, and the idea of Court always terrified them, even when you were able to reassure them that no Judge was ever going to take the child away from them.





About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

21 responses

  1. Ashamed to be British

    Goody, I hope he follows your every word now (if he wasn’t previously)

    He’ll then know what the people, parents, children, adopters and foster carers alike, actual think of this rotten system.

    Take a well deserved bow 🙂 Nice one

  2. Narey for many years ruled a company that made millions out of forced adoptions.Poor Dr Barnardo must still be turning in his grave in shock at what his formerly purely benevolent association has become.
    Adoption is a wonderful thing if it is voluntary but a wicked crime if it is forced on sane non criminal parents whose children are deprived of loving mothers and/or fathers and are handed over to complete strangers who may well abuse them.
    How can Narey justify the taking a baby at birth from a loving mother for risk of emotional abuse? (the social workers favourite buzzword) since hapless parents cannot easily dispute woeful prédictions by so called experts who see no harm in depriving their little victims not only of their parents but also their siblings,their grandparents,uncles,aunts and cousins ! And they dare to say the interests of the children are paramount ! POOR PARENTS,POOR KIDS..

    • feel sorry is good , but not enough. they should stop feeling vicitmised and confront abusers.My contact with my son was stopped BECAUSE I WANTED TO SHOW HIM UN DECLARATION OF CHILDREN RIGHTS. It was a decision of Phil Watson, a Director of Childre Services. of Medway.

      • Ashamed to be British

        Contact will be stopped for any old reason, what parents don’t realise because they’re not informed, is that it can only be stopped for 7 days, then it must be returned to court.
        LAC must be informed of their rights by whoever will tell them, again something the LA usually ‘forget’ to do

  3. As someone who likes to go in the middle lane I’m not taking sides! Unlike Martin, I have no illusions about the family as an institution and tend to see family dysfunction everywhere. Unlike Andrew, I recognise that human rights principles come into conflict with the social control function of social work. Nevertheless, there is a lot that is wrong with the present child protection system. I believe the problem that should be addressed is that too many cases are going to court that should be resolved through informal conflict resolution outside the court setting. Unfortunately, there is little agreement within the social work profession about the nature of social work expertise and how to engage the most challenging families in this kind of constructive work.

    When it comes to what happens after legal proceedings, I think the case in December 2014 sent shock waves through the system. My critique of the judgment can be seen here . In this particular case political ideology seemed to have too much influence on decision-making.

    • I’d done a long-ish response, but then I went to check out your link (and it is very good) and lost it all.

      I don’t really tend to express my personal feelings on how the adoption law has developed, but if I’m asked, I’d say that the Judges have taken on themselves things that I think Parliament ought to do, if anyone. I think common sense words like ‘requires’ are being asked to carry a huge amount of weight far more than the Act ever intended, and that the central theme of the Children Act 1989 – welfare of the child is paramount, is getting lost in a ‘rights-based’ philosophy.

      (I think that bits of Re B-S are very good, and long overdue, and bits of it I don’t personally care for AT ALL. The Dec 2014 case and the ones since are a direct consequences of the Court of Appeal over-reaching in Re B-S)

      • Which bits of Re B-S it do you dislike?

        I’ve always thought that Re B-S was the moment when the Appeal Court rightly called a halt to sloppy practice, inadequacy of analysis and reasoning in support of the case for adoption and the lack of proper evaluation by social workers at an earlier stage. The judges recognised that the outcome was far from satisfactory. The case had been badly mishandled by the local authority but it was too late to put that right. The welfare of the children took priority over justice for the mother.

        The response to this judgment should have been to RAISE STANDARDS of practice and develop a clearer understanding of all the arguments for and against each of the possible care plans that should always be considered at an EARLIER STAGE.

      • Hello Hilary. I agree with all of those bits. (I don’t think that they actually sat properly in Re B-S, since the appeal was about leave to oppose not an application for a placement order and the Court later say in passing that they don’t criticise the social work or the judgment in the case they were actually dealing with, so it was classic post 2012 Court of Appeal giving a policy speech rather than deciding on issues before them)

        But I have no problem with the idea that the evidence for a Placement Order should be robust and properly argued and that standards needed to be raised. Those bits are fine. Probably long overdue.

        The bits that I disagree with relate to the actual issue on appeal in front of them, which was the test for leave to oppose, and whilst I think that the bar might have been set too high before, they actually dropped it down to a point where it was inevitable that we were :-

        (a) Going to get far more leave to oppose applications (since previously a lawyer would say to a client ‘you can’t meet the legal test to succeed’)
        (b) Going to get far more opposed adoptions
        (c) Going to eventually get cases where a child is moved from prospective adopters to the birth family

        And that’s exactly what has happened. The way that the Court of Appeal dealt with Re B-S effectively put the burden on prospective adopters to show that “nothing else will do”, and turned a mechanism that provided for a legal challenge in exceptional circumstances into a ‘second bite of the cherry’ in almost all cases.

        It is really this, rather than the Placement Order application bits that are problematic. Since you are not just having to run a case that can persuade a Court in July 2015 that a Placement Order is warranted, you have to get a judgment that will stand up in January 2017 when the adoption application is made.

      • & think the judiciary are expressing a very proper check and balance upon the legislature, i.e. all very well that adoption should be a focus (like you I think where applicable it is a positive way to secure permanency for children and in their interests etc.) but what about the small matter of human rights which you have overlooked. Parliament I would say had overreached itself, without sensible debate, and without Re B-S we wouldn’t be at the point we are now where the use of non consensual adoption in the UK requires a robust debate pronto. Narey’s consistently sidelines that need, and whilst the government continues to, we continue to view this as being indicative of a policy direction to privatise. This runs along the lines of adoption is rubbish in the hands of the public sector, let’s let it go out to the slick private sector…

      • Hello Andrew, Thanks for your helpful explanation about the test for leave to oppose being lowered. I share your concerns about recent opposed adoptions.

        I accept your point that there was no criticism of the actual judgment in the case considered in Re B-S. However, the fact that the mother had succeeded in turning around her life made me wonder whether social workers could have done more to engage her in work to address the concerns and help her to make the necessary changes in order to keep the children? Obviously, it’s easy to say this in hindsight.

        I think that the adoption debate should focus on why some cases are fast-tracked to adoption instead of social workers, at ICO stage, having time to carry out a comprehensive assessment and take a fresh look at the situation then.

      • That’s a good place to start. Of course, with the Court timetable (and the need to get to an Agency Decision Maker), the social worker is really having to make decisions about whether adoption is the plan by about week 13 in order to satisfy the 26 week timetable. 13 weeks is not much time for a parent to turn things around, still less for a social worker to be confident that any changes are going to stick.

      • Ashamed to be British

        Isn’t that good enough reason to tear it up and start again?

        The focus on families bill needs to replace the 26 weeks and you’re gone bill

    • Rather than being little agreement within the profession wouldn’t you say that a culture of managerialism has led to the approach favoured by the government which is a rational – technical approach is “a rational-technical” approach where the emphasis is upon the conscious, cognitive elements of the task of working with children and families on collecting information and making plans (Munro, 2013). I would hazard that social workers and their profession are not in disagreement about what social work should look like but there is a perfect storm of political ideology + the PLO + Adoption Reforms + managerialism + cuts + austerity = it all beginning to look a bit like eugenics rather than social justice.Some of us are trying to change this and I find this blog, yours and the Transparency Project all useful sources of support. Social workers are agents of the state, t’was ever thus, but who amongst us wishes to return to the era of the Victorian Philanthropists.

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  5. I am a bit shocked that MN managed to misread and misquote you on giving advice and taking instructions, given how fundamental both are to the role I don’t think I would have managed your philosophical attitude!

    • I think it was just a typo rather than anything more sinister. Honest mistake, honestly made. I could never claim to come to an argument about typos with clean hands… (I managed to mistype lawyer’s wrong in this very piece, for example)

  6. On a more trivial note, Martin Narey’s response addresses you as “he” whereas I had up until that point presumed you to be a “she,” which of us is correct?

  7. Paul Summerfield

    I think it is very healthy that these little arguments spurt up now and again as it gives little insights into what going on.

    But hang on a moment there is another party that should be involved in this and that party gets all the complaints and proof that that things are not quite right from parents that have become involved in the family courts.

    That Party’s name is the Government.

    What I know for a fact is that if you can give your MP proof that SS, Cafcass Police, solicitors or the courts have broken the law in the matter of your family it will be passed onto a minister who will write back saying we cannot get involved because of the constitution even if you can prove that HR law has been broken in the courts they will still come out with we cannot help you because of the constitution. Then that complaint goes in the Great Government Waste bin to be forgotten. Next One Please…………..

    I got an Idea what we need is a revolution and create a constitution where Government, Police and Courts are independent of one another. So are complaints and proof can finally be sorted out.

    How that for a revolutionary idea?

    • Paul, it’s no good being stuck in revolutionary ideas of the 60’s – though radical thinking is definitely needed.

      I have always seen the Court as a lumbering beast ill-equipped to deal with the intricacies of human life. We need an alternative to this authoritarian institution which exercises power without any possibility of being held to account for mistakes.

      The fundamental question is how should society respond to the increasing number of irresponsible parents? We need courts because people cannot agree on what is meant by the welfare of the child. We need courts to broker compromise so we can live with each others’ differences and to ensure that services are delivered fairly, without favouritism toward any one particular social group. However, too much is expected of the courts today because social workers are not doing their problem-solving work well enough. The role of courts is to check whether social workers have followed the law correctly and make judgments accordingly – but instead they have been pushed into controversial areas of child welfare with regard to children’s emotional and developmental needs.

      There is a perception that children’s social work is now a middle class project to rescue children from parents whose lifestyle is too far away from those of mainstream society. It is invariably focused on those who are poor and disadvantaged.

      The government knows that child protection work is in a bad place at the moment and will have to change but it is at a loss to know what to do because of uncertainty about its ethical basis. These issues present a huge challenge to the middle class, liberal values of politicians, as well as reformers.

      • Paul Summerfield

        Thanks for your comment Hillary, I was actually being a little sarcastic as my headmaster Mr Brooks taught us about our constitution in morning assembly. He taught us that the government, police and court are independent of each other. I have seen no sign of this quite the opposite in fact. Since 2001 great successful efforts have been made to bring to the government the problems in the family court.

        Because of the creation of F4J it forced a government inquiry into the situation. This was a waste of time and money the government did nothing to understand the problem or sort the problems out because it is a political hot potato . There is even a Supreme Court Judge now complaining that the government are leaving the courts to many problems to sort out in the courts which elected MP’s in parliament should be doing not the courts. I am writing a complaint out now to SS Portsmouth its not about children its about how they treated my mother, I have found that they write reports not to protect the elderly but to protect serious mistakes made by the doctor and solicitors……….For that reason my heart goes out to parents that are losing their children though documents that are designed to stich parents and children up so as to keep up the percentage of children being removed from their parents.

        Frankly it is sicking for me to read this man comments from the SS writing about not knowing what the percentage figures should be for removal of children from their parents……….Its nothing to do with the percentage figures its about everybody getting Justice in our courts.

        Also don’t knock the 60s because it was the golden age, if it wasn’t for the 60s I would have given up the fight long ago

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