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Re W – no presumption for a child to be brought up by a member of the natural family

 

This was a Court of Appeal case decided today.  It has taken a LOT of chewing over to make sense of it. I’m still not quite sure that I get it.

 

Re W (A child) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/793.html

 

The facts

A, a young girl, was born on 1st May 2014. Care proceedings took place and on 21st October 2014 a Care Order and Placement Order were made.  A was placed with prospective adopters, Mr and Mrs X in December 2014. An adoption application was lodged by Mr and Mrs X on 1st April 2015.

In June 2015, the parents went on to have another child, J, and in those care proceedings, the paternal grandparents were approached and wanted to care for J. This was the first time that they learned of A’s existence. They wanted to also care for A.

They made an application for leave to oppose the adoption (which was wrong in law, but understandable – only parents can apply for that) and for a Child Arrangements Order for A to come and life with them.  [Yet another child K was born in April 2016 and K was placed with paternal grandparents and J]

The case came before Bodey J in April 2016. He dismissed the adoption application and made a Special Guardianship Order to the paternal grandparents. Mr and Mrs X appealed.

 

A powerful comment

 

This is not legally significant, but it was very punchy and wise, from Jackson LJ

 

 

  • As things stand at the moment, no party is proposing a compromise solution whereby A has contact with both families. The court is therefore faced with two unattractive options:

 

i) Shall A be removed from the home of Mr and Mrs X, where she is thriving and much loved? That will be involve the brutal and traumatic transfer of a two-year-old girl from her perceived parents to a family whom she has never met; or

ii) Shall A be kept apart from her two siblings and her birth family? Shall she grow up without meeting them?

 

  • If the court adopts the first course, what will be the long term effects on A (who has already had one change of carers) of such a huge upheaval at the age of 2? Alternatively, if the court adopts the second course, what will be the consequences a decade from now when A discovers that Mr and Mrs X through court orders have kept her away from her ‘real’ family and that her ‘real’ family were in a position to care for her? The teenage years are not always trouble-free and this could be a devastating discovery when A is a teenage girl.
  • I agree with McFarlane LJ that the shortcomings in the evidence and in the judgment at first instance are such that this case must be remitted to the Family Division for rehearing.
  • I express the hope that the next judge will not face the same “all or nothing” options which were put before Bodey J. The option should also be considered of A enjoying contact with both families. Mr and Mrs X love A dearly and have brought her up for almost two years. The paternal grandparents and A’s two siblings will, no doubt, love A dearly when eventually they meet her. Both families have the potential to enrich A’s life after its troubled start. Above all else what matters is the welfare of A, not the wishes of the opposing couples in this litigation.
  • The final tribunal in this case is not us or the Supreme Court. It is A herself. In later life A will probably read these judgments on the Internet. She will decide whether the positions adopted by the Xs and by the grandparents were reasonable. She will also make up her own mind about whether we were right or wrong to allow the present appeal.

 

Powerful stuff.  I hope that heed is taken of it.

 

Another powerful point, and one that I think was long overdue – children cases seem to barely be about children anymore. They are about timescales, and capacity to change, and resources, and whether professionals can be criticised, and whether parents can be blamed, and about 26 weeks and statistics, and about getting all of the case law window-dressing in place. But they’re not about the children very much.  So HOORAY for this

 

 

This case was all about A. She is a person. Her personality, her attributes, her achievements should have been centre stage in these proceedings. Yet she does not shine out from any reading of the court papers or from the judge’s judgment, indeed, the opposite is the case. It is, of course, on one level meaningless, given her age, to say that A was not “heard” or that she did not have ” a voice” within the proceedings but, for the reasons I have given, particularly the failure to allow the judge to hear directly from Mr and Mrs X and the failure of the Guardian to provide any description of A and her world, the way the case was presented, did, in a very real sense, rob the court of this essential dynamic.

 

Issues for the appeal

 

 

  • This appeal raises the following issues which may be of general importance:

 

a) The approach to be taken in determining a child’s long-term welfare once the child has become fully settled in a prospective adoptive home and, late in the day, a viable family placement is identified;

b) The application of the Supreme Court judgment in Re B [2013] UKSC 33 (“nothing else will do”) in that context;

c) Whether the individuals whose relationship with a child falls to be considered under Adoption and Children Act 2002, s 1(4)(f) is limited to blood relatives or should include the prospective adopters;

d) Whether it is necessary for a judge expressly to undertake an evaluation in the context of the Human Rights Act l998 in such circumstances and, if so, which rights are engaged.

I think most of us thought that with the President’s clarification in Re R, we were pretty much done with ‘nothing else will do’   (don’t take the soundbite literally, use the entireity of Lady Hale’s formulation, it is about realistic alternative options not fanciful ones). But the Court of Appeal have grabbed hold of a can opener and opened about a dozen cans that were labelled  “WORMS, Do not open”

Because they can can can

Because they can can can

The Court of Appeal were very very critical of the ISW and the Guardian (chiefly the Guardian) who they felt had got the law seriously wrong. Their mistake as to the law meant that their recommendations and conclusions were so flawed that the Judge’s reliance on them made the judgment flawed and the appeal succeed. So what did they get wrong?

All of them had approached the case in this way :-

A) This is an adoption application

B) The grandparents are a realistic option to care for A – they are caring for two siblings and doing a good job

C) There is nothing to rule them out as a carer for A

D) To make the adoption order, the Court must be satisfied that “nothing else will do”

E) Unless the risks of moving A are too great, she should be moved

I have to say, that this is exactly the way that I think almost every social worker, Guardian and lawyer in the country would have approached matters.  And candidly, how I would have approached it too. Of course look at the risks in E and weigh them up very carefully, but the starting point is that this is only a “nothing else will do” case and thus an adoption order case IF those risks mean that a placement with grandparents is not a realistic option. The starting point is surely that the child should be placed within the birth family if possible.  (That’s exactly the way that Bodey J –  one of the smartest men I’ve ever been in a room with – looked at it as well)

The Court of Appeal ire was particularly drawn by the word ‘right’ in the evidence of those professionals.    [Of course what a professional means by ‘right’ does not necessarily mean the same as what a lawyer means – but in any event, the article 8 right to family life seems rather to encompass that the child has a right to the family life that they were born into and should only be deprived of that where it is proportionate and necessary – hence Y v UK, hence Re B, hence Re B-S, so I’d have said there was a legal right as well as the context that social workers and Guardians would have been using the term – a moral right rather than a legal one.  If you had to have lived with a person to acquire a family life with them, there’d be no article 8 rights in cases where the child was removed at birth, and that’s just not the way the Court approaches such cases]

So these are the critical passages. They need a LOT of careful reading

“Nothing else will do”

  • Since the phrase “nothing else will do” was first coined in the context of public law orders for the protection of children by the Supreme Court in Re B, judges in both the High Court and Court of Appeal have cautioned professionals and courts to ensure that the phrase is applied so that it is tied to the welfare of the child as described by Baroness Hale in paragraph 215 of her judgment:

“We all agree that an order compulsorily severing the ties between a child and her parents can only be made if “justified by an overriding requirement pertaining to the child’s best interests”. In other words, the test is one of necessity. Nothing else will do.”

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

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

Natural family presumption/right

  • With respect to them, it is clear to me that both the Children’s Guardian and the ISW fell into serious error by misunderstanding the need to evaluate the question of A’s future welfare by affording due weight to all of the relevant factors and without applying any automatic “presumption” or “right” for a child to be brought up by a member of her natural family. The extracts from the reports of both of these witnesses indicate that they determined their recommendation for A on just that basis. Mrs Fairbairn repeatedly described the child as having a “right” to be brought up by the natural family where there is a viable placement available. The Guardian advised that adoption is not in A’s best interests because the grandparents can provide her with a home. Putting the correct position in lay terms, the existence of a viable home with the grandparents should make that option “a runner” but should not automatically make it “a winner” in the absence of full consideration of any other factor that is relevant to her welfare; the error of the ISW and the Guardian appears to have been to hold that “if a family placement is a ‘runner’, then it has to be regarded as a ‘winner'”.
  • The repeated reference to a ‘right’ for a child to be brought up by his or her natural family, or the assumption that there is a presumption to that effect, needs to be firmly and clearly laid to rest. No such ‘right’ or presumption exists. The only ‘right’ is for the arrangements for the child to be determined by affording paramount consideration to her welfare throughout her life (in an adoption case) in a manner which is proportionate and compatible with the need to respect any ECHR Art 8 rights which are engaged. In Re H (A Child) [2015] EWCA Civ 1284 this court clearly stated that there is no presumption in favour of parents or the natural family in public law adoption cases at paragraphs 89 to 94 of the judgment of McFarlane LJ as follows:

’89. The situation in public law proceedings, where the State, via a local authority, seeks to intervene in the life of a child by obtaining a care order and a placement for adoption order against the consent of a parent is entirely different [from private law proceedings], but also in this context there is no authority to the effect that there is a ‘presumption’ in favour of a natural parent or family member. As in the private law context, at the stage when a court is considering what, if any, order to make the only principle is that set out in CA 1989, s 1 and ACA 2002, s 1 requiring paramount consideration to be afforded to the welfare of the child throughout his lifetime. There is, however, a default position in favour of the natural family in public law proceedings at the earlier stage on the question of establishing the court’s jurisdiction to make any public law order. Before the court may make a care order or a placement for adoption order, the statutory threshold criteria in CA 1989, s 31 must be satisfied (CA 1989, s 31(2) and ACA 2002, s 21(2)).

94. It is clear that for Russell J the outcome of this case did not turn on the deployment of the ‘presumption’ that she describes, and this point was not taken within the appeal. My attribution of some prominence to it is not therefore determinative of the appeal. My aim is solely to point out the need for caution in this regard. The House of Lords and Supreme Court have been at pains to avoid the attribution of any presumption where CA 1989, s 1 is being applied for the resolution of a private law dispute concerning a child’s welfare; there is therefore a need for care before adopting a different approach to the welfare principle in public law cases. As the judgments in Re B, and indeed the years of case law preceding Re B, make plain, once the s 31 threshold is crossed the evaluation of a child’s welfare in public law proceedings is determined on the basis of proportionality rather than by the application of presumptions. In that context it is not, in my view, apt to refer to there being a ‘presumption’ in favour of the natural family; each case falls to be determined on its own facts in accordance with the proportionate approach that is clearly described by the Supreme Court in Re B and in the subsequent decisions of this court.

[As a sidebar, I think that particular point rather slid by, and the thrust of it is that threshold is extraordinarily important. Once threshold is crossed, the Court does not have a presumption that the child ought to be placed within the natural family – it is a straight welfare test.  My forecast is that disputes about threshold will probably increase once practitioners grasp the full import of that]

  • In the present appeal the point has more prominence because of the central focus afforded to the ‘right’ or presumption by both the ISW and the Guardian and by the fact that the judge relied upon their evidence without drawing attention to this erroneous approach.
  • It may be that some confusion leading to the idea of their being a natural family presumption has arisen from the use of the phrase ‘nothing else will do’. But that phrase does not establish a presumption or right in favour of the natural family; what it does do, most importantly, is to require the welfare balance for the child to be undertaken, after considering the pros and cons of each of the realistic options, in such a manner that adoption is only chosen as the route for the child if that outcome is necessary to meet the child’s welfare needs and it is proportionate to those welfare needs.
  • The total absence of any reference in the evidence of either the Guardian or the ISW to the welfare checklist in ACA 2002, s 1(4) and/or to the need to undertake a Re B-S compliant analysis only goes to reinforce my conclusion that both of these seasoned professionals fell into the trap that I have described and did indeed use the existence of a viable family placement as a hyperlink to the outcome of the case without taking any, in the case of the Guardian, or any proper, in the case of the ISW, regard to any other factor that might weigh to the contrary arising from A having achieved a full and secure placement with Mr and Mrs X.
  • As Mr Feehan helpfully observed in his closing submissions, it is all very well to purport to undertake a balancing exercise, but a balance has to have a fulcrum and if the fulcrum is incorrectly placed towards one or other end of that which is to be weighed, one side of the analysis or another will be afforded undue, automatic weight. Taking that point up from where Mr Feehan left it, in proceedings at the stage prior to making a placement for adoption order the balance will rightly and necessarily reflect weight being afforded to any viable natural family placement because there is no other existing placement of the child which must be afforded weight on the other side of the scales. Where, as here, time has moved on and such a placement exists, and is indeed the total reality of the child’s existence, it cannot be enough to decide the overall welfare issue simply by looking at the existence of the viable family placement and nothing else.

 

The problem with that formulation, of course, is that ‘necessary’  in the context of Adoption, means  “nothing else will do”  or to put it fully from Re B  “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.  ”      .    It is almost impossible to read that in any way other than there being a presumption that the child should be brought up within the birth family – a rebuttable presumption, but a presumption.  If there’s not that overriding requirement, the child would be with the birth family.

One might say, ah well that’s applicable when the Court are considering making the Placement Order, but once one is made, then the presumption or right or starting point is dislodged – the Court have already decided that there is such an overriding requirement when they MADE the Placement Order, so it doesn’t need to be found again. However, the Court of Appeal expressly said in Re B-S that when considering an application for leave to oppose an adoption order, and the making of an adoption order, the Re B test still applies, notwithstanding that the Court earlier made a Placement Order.   Para 74  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.

 

 

After a LOT of chewing, I think the critical passage to understand is the last one, and thank Heaven for Mr Feehan QC putting it in a way that one can understand.

 

As Mr Feehan helpfully observed in his closing submissions, it is all very well to purport to undertake a balancing exercise, but a balance has to have a fulcrum and if the fulcrum is incorrectly placed towards one or other end of that which is to be weighed, one side of the analysis or another will be afforded undue, automatic weight. Taking that point up from where Mr Feehan left it, in proceedings at the stage prior to making a placement for adoption order the balance will rightly and necessarily reflect weight being afforded to any viable natural family placement because there is no other existing placement of the child which must be afforded weight on the other side of the scales.

 

At the time that a Placement Order application is being considered then, there is a leaning towards placement within the birth family (not a right, or  presumption)  – but all things being equal, the scales will tip that way.  However, AFTER a Placement Order has been made and the child is placed with prospective adopters

 

Where, as here, time has moved on and such a placement exists, and is indeed the total reality of the child’s existence, it cannot be enough to decide the overall welfare issue simply by looking at the existence of the viable family placement and nothing else.

 

So in a post placement case, the issue becomes that of welfare of the child  with both sides to be weighed in the balance.  (I don’t really know where that leaves the Re B-S pronouncement that post Placement Order, “nothing else will do” applies to making of the Adoption Order. ..   Possibly the last sentence  of Re B-S para 74 iii) “That said, the child’s welfare is paramount” is doing an awful lot of heavy lifting – meaning that EVEN where there re no overriding requirements for the child’s welfare to be brought up outwith the birth family a simple ‘better for the child’s welfare’ can still make adoption possible.  Man, that’s a LOT of weight to carry.)

 

 

The Court of Appeal also looked at the article 8 issues

 

 

  • The issue of the lack of an HRA l998 analysis was not argued before this court at the oral hearing. If my Lords agree that this appeal must be allowed and there should be a re-hearing, it will be for the next judge to consider what, if any, HRA evaluation is justified. I shall therefore be both short and careful in the words that now follow. In human rights terms the present case may be unusual and out of the norm. As is well established, the existence of “family life” rights under Article 8 is a question of fact. It must be beyond question, as a matter of fact, that the relationship that now exists between Mr and Mrs X and A is sufficient to establish family life rights that justify respect under Article 8 in relation to all three of them. It does not, however, follow as night follows day, that the paternal grandparents have any Article 8 family life rights with respect to A at all. They have never met her. She does not know of their existence. They have no relationship whatsoever. Their son, A’s father, has never had parental responsibility for A. The same is likely to be the case with respect to family life rights of A with respect to her grandparents. It may well be, however, that A has some “private life” rights with respect to her natural family.
  • If the tentative formulation offered above is correct, the only relationships which fall to be afforded respect in the context of Article 8 “family life” are those between Mr and Mrs X and A. What effect, if any, that state of affairs may have on the outcome of the proceedings requires consideration at first instance.

 

[If the grandparents were not caring for A’s two siblings, I think that I would probably agree. But that’s a magnetic fact that I think does give A some article 8 family life with the grandparents as a family unit , despite never having met them or lived with them. Those are two full siblings, whom she might be placed with, or might grow up a stranger from. I’d give that some weight, myself]

 

 

So the upshot for this case is that there will be a re-hearing, and of course, the impact on A of moving her only becomes greater with the passage of time. I hope that all involved are looking at the words of Jackson LJ, because that seems to me to represent the best hope for the long-term future of this case.

 

And get ready for appeal after appeal as to presumptions and rights, and where exactly on the balancing scales Mr Feehan QC’s fulcrum should be in any case. The obvious immediate line of appeals will be the 11th hour relatives, who at the moment, if viable, force an adjournment for full assessment if the alternative is adoption because how are the Court to exclude them as a realistic option and thus be able to say that there are overriding requirements for the child’s welfare which warrant adoption?

The one thing that we REALLY didn’t need with adoption law was more complexity and more uncertainty and we’ve just been handed both.

 

What's in the box, Jokey? What's IN THE BOX?

What’s in the box, Jokey? What’s IN THE BOX?

 

 

Children and social work Bill

Long way to go, of course, but this lays out what the Goverment would hope to do with the new law.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2016-2017/0001/17001.pdf

 

The thing that most of us are interested in are the proposed reforms to adoption law. So here they are:-

 

Section 8

Care orders: permanence provisions
In section 31 of the Children Act 1989 (care and supervision orders), for
subsection (3B) substitute—
“(3B)For the purposes of subsection (3A), the permanence provisions of a
section 31A plan are—
(a) such of the plan’s provisions setting out the long-term plan for the upbringing of the child conc
erned as provide for any of the following—
(i) the child to live with any parent of the child’s or with any other member of, or any friend of, the child’s family

 (ii) adoption;
(iii) long-term care not within sub-paragraph (i) or (ii);
(b)such of the plan’s provisions as set out any of the following—
(i)the impact on the child concerned of any harm that he or she suffered or was likely to suffer;
(ii) the current and future needs of the child (including needs arising out of that impact);
(iii)the way in which the long-term plan for the upbringing of the child would meet those current and future needs.
This really just says that when considering the care plan (i.e what the child’s future should be), the Court need to take these specific things into account. It is just bringing any care plan in line with the additional things added to consider when making a Special Guardianship Order. I suspect, just as with the SGO formulations, that there is going to be a lot of argument before the Court of Appeal decide for us whether these provisions amount to ‘reparative care’ and if so, how one person’s ‘reparative care’ doesn’t become another’s ‘social engineering’ and putting children from poor families into middle-class families with greater resources.
What it is NOT, is anything that would make the Courts retreat from Lady Hale’s formulation in Re B. To be fair, the Government couldn’t, because so much of that was derived from the ECHR decision of Y v UK, and if the new Act tried to make a provision that adoption was not a last resort, only to be used where there was an overriding requirement for the child’s welfare, the cases would just be stacking up in the ECHR to fight that.
I’m a bit surprised that we didn’t end up with some sort of fudgy compromise like the shared parenting provision in the Children and Families Act – you know, something like “Where the Court is satisfied that adoption is in the best interests of the child, a Placement Order may be made”, but it isn’t there.
All of the things specified here are things that I think the Court’s DO consider, but it doesn’t hurt to have them set down clearly that they HAVE to be considered. It certainly isn’t something which shifts the legal test on adoption notably or is likely to ensure that the Prime Minister’s declared aim to double the number of children being adopted (sorry, he gave it in an interview to the Times, which uses a paywall, so I can’t link to it).
What else on adoption?
9Adoption: duty to have regard to relationship with adopters

(1) Section 1 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (matters to which court is to have regard in coming to a decision relating to the adoption of a child) is
amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (7) insert—
“(7A) For the purposes of this section as it applies in relation to a decision by a court, or by an adoption agency in England—
(a) references to relationships are not confined to legal relationships,
(b)references to a relative, in relation to a child, include—
(i)the child’s mother and father, and
(ii)any person who is a prospective adopter with whom the child is placed.
(7B)In this section “adoption agency in England” means an adoption agency that is—
(a)a local authority in England, or
(b)a registered adoption society whose principal office is in England.”
(3)In subsection (8) (meaning of “relative” etc), in the words before paragraph (a),
after “section” insert “as it applies in relation to a decision by an adoption
agency in Wales”
This section binds Courts, and means that they must take account in the welfare checklist, when considering making an adoption order, or the second stage of leave to oppose adoption application, of the child’s relationship with the prospective adopters.  Again, I think mostly they already did (well, on the odd occasion when they didn’t, the Court of Appeal stepped in).  This doesn’t affect anything that the Court of Appeal said in Re B-S about the test for leave to oppose adoption – but it doesn’t hurt to have it spelled out.
If these two clauses went through unchanged, tomorrow, I think that it would change final evidence a bit, change submissions a bit, and add a paragraph to judgments. I would be very shocked if any case that would today have been a placement with parents, or with relatives, or long-term fostering, would become a Placement Order and approved plan of adoption tomorrow.
There’s nothing like a duty on social workers to favour or prioritise adoption, or even to favour or prioritise adoption over say long-term fostering.
It is nowhere near the Gove/Cameron rhetoric, but then whilst we remain part of the ECHR, it couldn’t be. The drafters have done as much as they can, given the existence of Y v UK.
I rather like the Local Authorities corporate responsibilities to children – I mean, I loathe mission statements with the whole of my little black tiny heart, but I think that actually spelling out what the State should be doing for the children in its care is no bad thing.

 

Corporate parenting principles for English local authorities
1Corporate parenting principles
(1)A local authority in England must, in carrying out functions in relation to the
children and young people mentioned insubsection (2), have regard to the
need—
(a)to act in the best interests, and promote the health and well-being, of
those children and young people;
(b)to encourage those children and young people to express their views,
wishes and feelings;
(c)to take into account the views, wishes and feelings of those children
and young people;
(d)to help those children and young people gain access to, and make the
best use of, services provided by the local authority and its relevant
partners;
(e)to promote high aspirations, and seek to secure the best outcomes, for
those children and young people;

(f)for those children and young people to be safe, and for stability in their

home lives, relationships and education or work;
(g)to prepare those children and young people for adulthood and
independent living.
The extension of some leaving care provisions to the age of 25 is good for children, but until we see whether there will be any funding for it, rather meaningless. Without fresh money for those services, they can only be provided by making cuts elsewhere, and there’s not many places that can be cut without hurting other vulnerable people badly now.
The Secretary of State will have powers to create a Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, and it will be the Secretary of State who decides who will sit on the Panel, and she or he can remove members from that Panel if she or he thinks they are unfit or have behaved badly. This is a bit vague. It sort of reads as though they are going to take over the most Serious (read political or newsworthy)  Serious Case Reviews from Local Children Safeguarding Boards. Whether that is after, or instead of, I’m not sure.  The Panel does have power to compel any person to provide information to the Panel and they MUST do so. So a bit like a Commons Select Committee.
LA’s must notify the Panel where any of these criteria are made out
“16C Events to be notified to the Panel
(1)A local authority in England must notify the Child Safeguarding
Practice Review Panel of any of the following that occur in their area—
(a)the death of a child who is known or suspected by the local
authority to have been abused or neglected;
(b) serious harm to a child who is known or suspected by the local
authority to have been abused or neglected;
(c) the death of a child who was looked after by a local authority (within the meaning given by section 22(1) of the Children Act
1989);
(d) the death of a child in a regulated setting.
(That might be potentially very wide on (b) – given that the threshold for care proceedings is ‘significant harm’, what’s going to be the distinction between ‘significant harm’ which is all children in care proceedings and ‘serious harm’?
The definition says  :-

“serious harm” includes serious or long-term impairment of mental health or intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural
development.
So on the face of it, a skull fracture that a child survives is not serious harm, but failure by a parent to ensure the child goes to speech therapy, causing delay in language development which takes time to recover from might be…)
There’s some tightening up/refreshing of the Sectretary of State’s power to make regulations about social workers – their training, qualifications, disciplinary process and so on.
If you do adult work, the regulation of AMPHs and Best Interest Assessors is also in there at sections 39 and 40.
Section 15 is a bit chilling, and Community Care have written about that here.
http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2016/05/21/social-work-bill-gives-government-power-exempt-childrens-services-legal-duties/
My reading is that the Secretary of State’s powers to make regulations meaning that a Local Authority is exempted from large chunks of legislation to “allow it to try new methods of working” only apply where the Local Authority THEMSELVES ask for it (section15(3) ) , but I guess that in a scenario where the Secretary of State has appointed someone independent to run the LA children’s services  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35088879 then the Secretary of State’s puppet sorry, independent appointee, may have the power.
I don’t much like the idea of there being chunks of law that don’t apply to certain Local Authorities. It also opens the door to Academy style incentives – become an “Academy” social work team in the Government’s new shiny model and look, we’ll get rid of the expensive leaving care provisions for you, and you get three years break from Ofsted, up to six if you play your cards right…
On the whole, I don’t think the Bill says a great deal, it doesn’t say anything particularly harmful – with the possible exception of s15, and a lot of it is just making it clear that things that are being done as voluntary best practice should be done by everyone, as a statutory requirement. It could have been a LOT worse. The Children and Families Act 2014, for example, was a LOT worse.

Disguised compliance

 

This is a case where a Judge was critical of the Local Authority’s use of the phrase “disguised compliance”.  I know that it is a phrase that sometimes puts hackles up

Pink Tape sums up very well just how annoying some people find the phrase  – though her particular issue is that it should be “disguised non-compliance”

http://www.pinktape.co.uk/rants/mini-vent/

(I’m going to suggest in this piece that the problem is not the phrase or the concept, it is throwing the label around when there’s no evidence that it is happening. It is when people just assert that it has happened without going to the bother of proving it with evidence.   It is a similar sort of effect when people describe a child’s description of abuse as a “disclosure” rather than an “allegation” – because the former implies that the child must be telling you something true, and the latter is a more accurate description of the account of abuse until such time as a Court makes decisions about whether it happened)

 

 

Disguised compliance is a recognised phenomenon in child protection, and one that frequently comes up in Serious Case Reviews , it is generally defined thus:-

 

Disguised compliance involves parents giving the appearance of co-operating with child welfare agencies to avoid raising suspicions and allay concerns. Published case reviews highlight that professionals sometimes delay or avoid interventions due to parental disguised compliance.

https://www.nspcc.org.uk/globalassets/documents/information-service/factsheet-disguised-compliance1.pdf

 

So it can be a real thing, and it can be a real problem that professionals need to be aware of.  Professionals failing to spot the difference between a parent who has genuinely changed and is trying their best and one who is trying it on, have ended up with children who were seriously harmed or worse.  It was, for example, a major feature in the Victoria Climbie Serious Case Review, also in the Peter Connolly one.

A sceptical enquiring mind is appropriate – the mind should be open to both possibilities and assess the evidence.

The difficulty, of course, is the differential diagnosis – a situation could be disguised compliance, or it could be a parent genuinely doing everything that they are being asked to do.

If for example, a Local Authority say to a mother, we want you to separate from father and not have contact with him, and allow us to make unannounced visits and improve the home conditions, there are instances where this is exactly what the mother does and that’s positive evidence of change and a good indicator for the future. However, there are cases where the parents pretend to have separated and see each other secretly and everything on the surface looks the same as the mother who has really made those changes. The latter would be disguised compliance. Someone pretending to have changed, but not having really done it.

The issue, of course, is that simply looking at a parent and labelling what they are doing as “disguised compliance” is an allegation – that the parent is not really changed and is not trustworthy. And if you are as the State making an allegation, then the burden is on you to prove it, and you have to provide evidence to that effect. Simply labelling someone’s behaviour as “disguised compliance” is not sufficient.

If a parent is doing everything that you have asked them to do, then you can’t simply undermine that by saying “Ah, but it is just disguised compliance”    – that’s like having your cake and eating it. The LA seem to be in a position of being able to criticise someone for not doing what they were asked to, but also being able to criticise them for doing it.  Obviously, if there’s evidence that someone’s attitude and insight has not changed, or that they are not actually doing what they claim to be, that’s a different matter – depending on the evidence.

It may well be very sensible to have in mind that a given set of facts could be genuine change or it could be disguised compliance, and to assess the situation and check how you are monitoring, but if you can’t provide the evidence that what the mother is doing is disguised compliance, you cannot just write all of the observed changes off by saying that’s what it is. The law, and the Courts, work on evidence, not mere suspicion or speculation.

DV (Adoption or Rehabilitation) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2016/B12.html

 

The Local Authority repeatedly use a phrase critical of the mother when they say that she has engaged in ‘disguised compliance’. It may be that their terminology is loose, but I find that it is not supported by any recent evidence. Indeed, the social worker is happy to praise the mother’s engagement and was positively enthusiastic about the counselling which was underway. Certainly, the children’s guardian was rejecting of the criticism implicit in the phrase ‘disguised compliance’. The guardian told me that the mother now recognised the need for change, she wanted to change, she had fully engaged with everything that had been offered, and she was in the process of change. 

 

 

The Judge, having heard all of the evidence in the case was satisfied that the mother genuinely had separated from the father, and had learned from her mistakes and was working genuinely to make and sustain changes, and therefore refused the plan for adoption – the child was returned to the mother’s care.

Speeding up of adoptions – a counterpoint to the political direction of travel

 

 

It has been a hot theme on the blog ever since I started, forced (or non-consensual) adoptions.  This article is by some people whose views I have a lot of time for-  Brid Featherstone, Professor Sue White, Kate Morris, June Thoburn and Anna Gupta.

 

Although you can see from the sidebar on the piece that many of them have Labour connections, I don’t read this as purely a piece of party political polemic.  The politicising of adoption began before our current Prime Minister (though it is accelerating) and it is a clear theme of Brid and Sue’s bloody marvellous book  “Re-imagining child protection : Towards humane social work with families”   http://www.amazon.co.uk/Re-imagining-child-protection-Towards-families/dp/1447308018/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1449769831&sr=8-1&keywords=brid+featherstone   that many of the seeds of the current problems were sown in the early days of New Labour – a reduction of parents to a set of problems to be solved and the idea that parents role in society was simply to deliver parenting to children rather than remembering that they were also people.

 

This piece is well worth  a read.

 

There is one paragraph that really struck a chord, and it is a theme that comes up over and over in our discussions here.  Before I started writing the blog, it would have been really easy to dismiss all those who complained about family justice and social workers as conspiracy nuts or people who couldn’t face up to their own shortcomings and found it easier to blame a corrupt system than to accept their own part in the sad outcome.  Having spent four years now listening to their stories, there’s more to it than that.  There are people who have had genuinely dreadful experiences in the system, there are individual cases that have gone badly wrong.  That doesn’t mean that one can assume blindly that the experience for everyone is the same and that nobody gets fair treatment, but equally we shouldn’t write off those experiences as bad luck or crackpots.

 

 

With services increasingly focused on protection rather than support, families fear rather than seek professional help when struggling in adverse social circumstances. The promotion of adoption sets up an adversarial dynamic that can seriously undermine social workers’ ability to develop trusting relationships with families needing help, as distrust and suspicion permeate the system.

I’ve spent twenty years working with social workers – sometimes on the same team, sometimes against them. I’ve seen good ones, great ones, mediocre ones, a few downright bad ones,  new and terrified ones, jaded and stressed ones, ones that went the extra mile,  ones that had a bad day and made a mistake, ones that pulled something amazing out of a family situation that looked hopeless, ones that were cold, ones who shouldn’t have been doing the job. I really haven’t seen ones who came into the career to make people frightened of them.  We have to look at the system, if that’s the dynamic that is existing between social workers and parents – because social workers by and large come into the job to help people, that’s what they want to do. But that’s certainly not the public perception, and it isn’t the practical experience of many people who share their stories with me.

 

Can something be done to lessen or remove this adversarial dynamic, because it isn’t good for anyone involved.  It stresses parents, it makes social workers miserable and it inhibits children from getting the improvements or help or support that might be needed.

 

https://theconversation.com/by-rushing-to-speed-up-forced-adoptions-we-are-letting-children-down-51609

 

 

 

 

Removal of a child from prospective adopter

 

I have written about a few of these cases since Holman J’s decision in December 2014, but this one is rather out of the ordinary.

 

RY v Southend Borough Council 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2509.html

 

Hayden J was dealing with two applications. The first was an application by RY, an approved adopter, to adopt a child who is about 2 1/2, a little girl named SL.  The second was the application by the Local Authority  (Southend) to remove the child from RY’s care, under section 35 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

Cases about section 35 are rather rare, and this one raises some unusual issues.

First things first, what does s35 say?

 

“35 Return of child in other cases

(2) Where a child is placed for adoption by an adoption agency, and the agency –

(a) is of the opinion that the child should not remain with the prospective adopters, and

(b) gives notice to them of its opinion, the prospective adopters must, not later than the end of the period of seven days beginning with the giving of the notice, return the child to the agency.

(5) Where –

(a) an adoption agency gives notice under subsection (2) in respect of a child,

(b) before the notice was given, an application for an adoption order (including a Scottish or Northern Irish adoption order), special guardianship order or residence order, or for leave to apply for a special guardianship order or residence order, was made in respect of the child, and

(c) the application (and, in a case where leave is given on an application to apply for a special guardianship order or residence order, the application for the order) has not been disposed of, prospective adopters are not required by virtue of the notice to return the child to the agency unless the court so orders”.

In plain English, where a Local Authority have placed for a child for adoption, if they ask for the child back, the adopter must hand the child back within 7 days.  UNLESS the adopter has already made an application to Court for adoption, or a Special Guardianship Order or a residence order (Child Arrangements Order), in which case it is up to the Court what happens.

In this case, RY had lodged her application to adopt SL BEFORE the LA asked her to hand the child back, so it was for the Court to decide.

By way of important background, SL was a very ill child.

  1. At birth SL was pale, floppy and had no respiratory effort or heart rate and required intensive resuscitation. Her first gasp was not until 20 minutes into life. Dr. Daniel Mattison, Consultant Paediatrician, identifies that SL had experienced hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy. This can result in a wide spectrum of disability and in SL’s case she has been left with a raft of problems. Firstly, quadriplegic cerebral palsy, which means that she has impaired movement and stiffness of all her limbs as a direct result of brain damage to the parts of the brain involved in movement, tone and posture.
  2. Secondly, she has global developmental impairment. Thirdly, she has gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. That is a condition where the stomach contents pass into the oesophagus causing symptoms. The stomach contents are acidic so the symptoms include pain from the acidic contents coming into contact with the oesophagus and the throat. They also include vomiting, feeding difficulties and respiratory problems if the stomach contents irritate the top of the windpipe or if small amounts enter the lungs. Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease is more common and may be more severe in children with severe neuro-disability like SL.
  3. Finally, Dr. Mattison considers that there is visual impairment as a result of the deprivation of blood and oxygen to those parts of the brain involved in vision.

One can see that absolutely anyone would have faced challenges in caring for SL and meeting her needs.

What the Judge found, by careful consideration of the facts, was that the matching process of RY and SL was optimistic.

RY had some considerable issues of her own, having been diagnosed with Ehler-Danloss syndrome, occasionally needing to feed herself through a gastrostomy tube and being in a power chair needing to use hoists to move herself out of the chair.  She also stated that she had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when she was 19.

None of that, of course, means that she is excluded from being a carer for a child, or from being an adopter, but it does mean that there were medical issues that needed some careful consideration in the assessment and matching process.

The fact that the assessment process identified that there had been views that RY’s physical problems were emotional or psychological in nature, at the very least ought to have meant that the adopter’s medical records would have been needed to be seen and commented on by a medically qualified professional.

I am not myself at all clear as to why that wasn’t the case.

 

12…the assessment report more generally – poses a number of questions. Most importantly, it does not address RY’s capacity physically to parent a disabled youngster as the child got older and heavier. It also has to be said that the possibility that RY’s health difficulties might have a psychological component were evident. It is easy, of course, to be wise with the benefit of hindsight, but nonetheless it seems to me that the enquiries made into RY’s physical and mental health were less than satisfactory.

  1. A number of reports were requested, including one from RY’s general practitioner and rheumatologist, but the nature of that enquiry appears to have been very limited and as RY on her own account has had very little recent contact with either in recent years, it is not surprising that little constructive information was forthcoming.
  2. Ms. Frances Heaton QC and Mr. Shaun Spencer, who appear on behalf of Southend Borough Council, absorb this criticism without demure. In their closing submissions they state as follows: ^

    “With regard to its own failure to consider these records, the adoption agency is cognisant of the fact that although not signposted in the regulations, a review of RY’s medical records is likely to have been beneficial during the adoption process”.

  3. They continue:

    “Where an adoption agency has referred a proposed placement to the adoption panel, the panel must consider the proposed placement and make a recommendation to the agency as to whether the child should be placed for adoption with that particular prospective adopter pursuant to regulation 32(1) of the Adoption Act Regulations 2005.

    In considering what recommendation to make the panel, (1), must have regard to the statutory duties imposed on the agency; (2), must consider and take into account all information and reports ^ passage of it; (3), may request the agency to obtain any other relevant information which the Panel considers necessary; and (4), may obtain legal advice as it considers necessary in relation to the case. Thereafter, in coming to a decision about whether a child should be placed for adoption with a particular prospective adopter, the agency decision maker must take into account the recommendation of the adoption panel and have regard to the child’s continuing welfare, pursuant to regulation 34(4) of the Adoption Act Regulations 2005″.

  • 16.Ms. Heaton and Mr. Spencer also identified the most recent Department of Education Statutory Guidance on Adoption, July 2013, drawing my attention particularly to para.4.15, which states:

     

      1. “Agencies have a duty to satisfy themselves that prospective adopters have a reasonable expectation of continuing to enjoy good health. The medical adviser should explain and interpret health information from the prospective adopter, their GP, and consultants if relevant, to facilitate panel discussion. The opinion of the prospective adopter’s GP and the agency’s medical adviser about the health status of the prospective adopter needs to be given sufficient weight by adoption panels and agency decision-makers. Mild chronic conditions are unlikely to preclude people from adopting, provided that the condition does not place the child at risk through an inability to protect the child from commonplace hazards or limit them in providing children with a range of beneficial experiences and opportunities. More severe conditions must raise a question about the suitability of a prospective adopter, but each case will have to be considered on its own facts …”

 

 

That seems to me very clear that an adoption medical of the prospective adopter would be required and that in a case where medical issues arise, the records would be needed.

 

This next part, for my mind, is the most worrying aspect of the case  – that these important aspects had not been properly considered because of the pressures on Southend (and one assumes other Local Authorities) to move adoptions through the system quickly to satisfy the Government driven statistics. But even more seriously, that where a Local Authority does not properly satisfy the Government as to performance, there are ‘penalties’

I have to be candid, I do work for a Local Authority. I don’t know about penalties for failure to meet the thoughts that Central Government have about performance (and frankly I wouldn’t know how to find out). The common-sense reading of this portion is that there are financial implications for a Local Authority who doesn’t get their adoptions through as quickly as Central Government thinks that they should.  Perhaps that is right, in which case it would be very worrying.  Perhaps someone has got the wrong end of the stick here.

  1. Counsel seek to explain the deficiencies of this agency’s process in these terms, they state:

    “The agency appreciates the strength of an argument that it failed to have sufficient regard to the matters required of it both by the regulations and the statutory guidance. In the context of that argument, the court understands the pressures on agencies quickly to match children with approved adopters as a result of government measures”.

  2. Ms. Heaton and Mr. Spencer say:

    “It is a reality of the situation that adoption agencies are being judged and measured by government departments on the speed of time taken to match children, poor performance leads to penalties”.

  3. They conclude:

    “This adoption agency recognises that these pressures may have resulted in proper scrutiny not being fully implemented in this case. I am offered reassurance that the agency recognises that a request to consider our wide medical records would have been beneficial to the matching process. I have been told that they intend to address this failing for the future by ensuring that the agency is more ready to be resistant to pressures and to identify at an early stage those cases which it considers to be exceptional where a ‘longer matching process is required’.”

 

The Judge was also perturbed about this :-

 

  1. I am not in any way in any position to evaluate the explanation proffered in the authority’s fulsome explanation. I was not, for example, aware that government departments were subjected to penalties where there had been too much delay in the time taken to match children, I confine myself entirely to observing what is little more than a statement of that which should be obvious.
  2. Children like SL are profoundly vulnerable. Social services and society more generally must be sedulous in its protection of them. The fact that there may be fewer welfare options available for such children must never mean the criteria for matching carers to them can ever be compromised. On the contrary, the obligations should be seen as even more rigorous. The matching of RY to SL was undoubtedly ambitious.

 

 

In any event, things became more serious, because what was asserted was that RY’s care was not merely deficient but actually harmful and indeed that the care of SL had reached the point where significant harm had been caused.

There were many issues in this regard, and the Judge was also critical that the document provided to RY that set out what portions of parental responsibility she was allowed to exercise and what she was not was a stock document and was ambiguous

 

  1. What is contemplated here is the granting of some but not all parental rights. The focus is on the child with the objective of permitting the prospective adopter to take day-to-day decisions in the sphere of health, education, religion, holidays and social activities. Here this local authority, in common with many others, I am told, issued a standardised pro forma document.
  2. In relation to health issues, it permitted RY to consent to emergency medical treatment. It did not permit her to consent to treatment including operations that require anaesthetic. It did permit her to take decisions in relation to any prophylactic treatment, including immunisations, decisions in relation to involvement in counselling or therapeutic services, agreement to school medical appointments and decisions in relation to dental treatment. It also provided for her to have decision making responsibility across a range of issues relating to education, day-care, religion, holidays and contact, had that been relevant. I need not look at those wider issues and I concentrate entirely, because it is in focus here, on the provisions relating to health. I have, to say the least, been greatly exercised by them. They are not to my mind a model of pellucid clarity.
  3. There has been much confusion by the professionals as to what the scope and ambit of RY’s parental responsibility powers in fact were. Having read the document I am not surprised. This document, particularly if it is, as I am told, issued widely, really requires refinement. Again I am reassured that Ms. Heaton has this in her sights. She submits that the adoption agency recognises that on reflection and with the benefit of hindsight, (a recurrent phrase) the use of this local pro forma document was not suited to the facts of this case. It is now, she says, recognised that what was required – and is likely to be required in cases such as this concerning any child with complex care needs – is “a bespoke s.25 parental responsibility document tailored to the individual circumstances and needs of the child being placed.”
  4. She goes on to offer the reassurance that in the light of this acknowledgement this Adoption Agency intends to review its own practices and procedures in relation to the identification of appropriate restriction on parental responsibility and to introduce bespoke PR documents in appropriate cases. It also intends to raise the issue with the British Association of Adoption and Fostering so that other adoption agencies may benefit from learning from the experience of this case. I would add to that my own view that the standardised document is itself lacking in clarity. The first two requirements permitting consent for emergency treatment and refusing to bestow consent to treatment including operations are not immediately capable of easy reconciliation and generate, to my mind, inevitable confusion. As I have said, they require some refinement though, of course, I recognise, in many cases, issues such as this will simply not arise.

 

 

The crux of this case was as to how RY behaved whilst SL was in hospital, which sadly given SL’s considerable health needs was something that happened often and would be likely to happen in the future. It was asserted that she was obstructive about the child’s feeding, resistant to medical advice, over-reporting of medical concerns, requested sedation for the child, adminstered oxygen when she was not trained to do so and discharged the child against medical advice.

 

  1. The local authority’s schedule posits six findings and four supplemental findings. The first is that during SL’s hospital admission, which commenced on 26 September 2014, RY repeatedly refused nursing observations such as taking blood pressure or temperature. The second is that RY repeatedly refused to allow medical advice in relation to SL’s dietetic requirements. The third is that RY repeatedly stopped or refused medication and treatments. The fourth is that RY demonstrated an inability consistently to accept medical advice. The fifth is that RY repeatedly requested treatments of her own motion or insists on treatment methods. And the sixth is that due to RY’s anxieties, she tends to focus her attention on unnecessary medical procedures or extreme outcomes.
  2. The four additions are that RY suctioned SL unnecessarily too vigorously and in an inappropriate manner. Secondly, that she repeatedly requested sedation medication for SL despite being told by at least two health professionals, Dr. Court and Sally Deever, that such may compromise her breathing. The third is that RY gave SL oxygen unnecessarily and inappropriately when she was not trained to do. And fourth, that SL suffered harm in RY’s care and was likely to do so if she were to return to her care. That last finding being essentially a composite of the earlier allegations.
  3. As I have already said, it is really a very striking feature of this case that so much of what is set out in that schedule is factually uncontentious. It is the gloss or interpretation that is put on it that has become the focus of disagreement during this case. In, for example, the first finding, namely that during SL’s hospital admission in September 2014 RY repeatedly refused nursing observations, there is agreement that she did indeed make such refusals.

 

 

Most of the factual matters, being supported by the medical reports provided by the hospital treating SL, were not in dispute. What was disputed was the interpretation to be placed on them, or whether they amounted to harmful behaviour rather than just genuine concern about a child who was undoubtedly very unwell.

  1. RY told me that she derived some satisfaction from the preparation of the food for her daughter that it was instinctive to her to want to do that and that I certainly understand, but as time passed it became all too clear that this preferred method of nutrition not only was unsatisfactory, it was falling manifestly and demonstrably short of meeting SL’s needs. The doctors and nursing staff and dieticians were plainly highly agitated that SL should have good quality calorific and nutritional food, particularly when recovering from her operation, and RY undoubtedly resisted it in the face of her own obviously inadequate regime long after it would have become obvious to the reasonable carer that this was simply not meeting this little girl’s needs.
  2. So obvious was it that, in circumstances which I really find to be truly extraordinary, the hospital required RY to sign a waiver abdicating their responsibility to her for providing SL’s proper nutrition. What I find so deeply alarming is that in this instance and in the other instance that I have just looked at, that is to say the failure to let nurses take temperature, blood pressure, routine tests, et cetera, how it was that RY’s will prevailed to the extent it did. I can only assume that her behaviour was as described so bizarre that it caused confusion in the ward and led to poor clinical judgments to be taken contrary to SL’s interests.
  3. Ms. Heaton put to RY directly on this point, “In those circumstances, how could RY be said to be putting SL’s interests first?” And to that, in my judgment, RY had no satisfactory answer. I simply do not believe that she has understood or is now able fully to understand why it was she behaves in that way, but there is no satisfactory explanation when properly analysed for this failure to meet that most basic of SL’s needs, her need for nutrition.
  4. As I have said, I do not find it necessary to work through each of the many examples contended for in the Scott Schedule of, for example, RY’s refusing medication and treatments, chiefly again because it is not disputed. One such example which stood out to me in the evidence was RY’s refusal to permit SL to take oramorph when moved onto the ward when in the intensive care unit. Oramorph, I was told, is a morphine-based medicine the objective of which was to downscale gradually the pain relief from the higher dosage that she hitherto had been receiving.
  5. RY told the hospital – and indeed told me – as Ms. Walker emphasises in her closing submissions, that SL “didn’t need anything for break-through pain”. It is one of a number of responses that causes Ms. Walker to comment on what she contends to be RY’s arrogance towards medical staff for how, says Ms. Walker, could RY possibly have been in a position to gainsay the medical advice and to assert from the basis of no medical knowledge at all and in a highly specialised area of medicine that this little girl did not need anything for break-through pain. Once again it was RY’s wish and not that of the doctors that prevailed. I agree with Ms. Walker that the evidence in relation to this can properly be described, as she does, “overwhelming”.
  6. I would also like to highlight the incident set out in the unchallenged statement of Ms. Leanne Mulholland, who is a Senior Sister at the Paediatric Emergency Department at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. In her statement of 7 May 2015, Ms. Mulholland tells me that she was the nurse in charge on the early shift of 14 July. Four areas of concern were handed over to her from the night staff.
  7. Firstly, there was the transfer of SL to the Paediatric Emergency Department in RY’s car directly contrary to the advice of the paramedic. A process which in and of itself caused a significant delay in admission as Mr. Unwin emphasises as a convenient forensic illustration of harm. Secondly, on arrival there was concern that RY simply refused initially to allow a full respiratory assessment to be performed. I am still unclear why that was, but it was ultimately completed as it manifestly needed to be. There was reported to Sister Mulholland a concern about the ambit of parental responsibility, which I have already looked at.
  8. Then there was the final area of concern; active discharge from the hospital against medical advice. That RY should do this at all, that she should feel knowledgeable and empowered enough to do it, even before she had been granted the Adoption Order and full parental responsibility, is profoundly troubling. This episode illustrates to my mind that RY had gone beyond behaviour that was merely capable of being categorised as bizarre but had, in truth, spiralled out of control. I find her judgment and her behaviour, was irrational, unstable and she had become, I am truly sad to say, a real risk to SL

 

 

There really was no way that Hayden J would have been able to grant RY’s application for adoption. He is very kind in his conclusions

 

  1. Ultimately, balancing what I have sought to identify as some really clear, captivating and obvious strengths that RY has and balancing those against the harm I have just outlined in summary, does not present to me a remotely delicate balance in determining the future for SL. The way ahead for her, whatever it may hold, is clear. The risk RY presents of harm or significant harm to SL is so real and serious and the potential consequences so grave that I find them to be wholly inimical to her welfare. It points clearly and determinatively in support of the local authority’s application under s.35(2) in effect refusing return to RY’s care. It follows, therefore, that I dismiss her application for adoption.
  2. In my lay view, RY has plainly some real emotional and psychological issues to address. I hope she is able to do so. I hope her family are able to help her to do so. In the meantime, it would not be safe, in my judgment, for her to be involved in the care of any child or vulnerable adult with disabilities.

 

 

Transparency

 

Hayden J recognised that this was a case, where the system had not worked as it should and that a very vulnerable child had been exposed to more harm in the adoptive placement that had been intended to meet her needs, and there was thus a public interest in the case being reported

 

Cases of this kind generate real public concern and rightly so. In the past a judgment such as this would not have entered the public domain. It is hardly surprising therefore that public understanding of the Family Court process and confidence in it’s system had begun to erode. The Practice Guidance of the 16th January 2014 was intended to and has achieved immediate and significant change in practice in relation to publication of judgments in the Family Courts and the Court of Protection. In April 2013 Sir James Munby P issued a statement, View From the President’s Chambers: The Process of Reform, [2013] Fam Law 548 in which he identified transparency as one of three central strands of reform which the Family Justice System is currently undergoing. This is an ongoing process in which a balance between freedom of expression, protected by Article 10 ECHR and the rights of vulnerable children to privacy and security, protected by Article 8 is often a delicate one.

 

The fundamental argument was as to whether RY’s name should be reported.  Unlike a case where identification of a parent who has harmed the child inextricably identifies the child as well, and thus should not happen, here RY and SL did not share a name and identifying RY would not also identify SL.

The Court had come very close to identifying RY in the judgment, and the single factor which mitigated against it was RY’s intention to seek help for her own problems.

  1. I have already expressed my clear view that the link between publication of the identity of the carer and any adverse impact upon the child subject to these proceedings is tenuous. However, I think RY’s entitlement to the opportunity of therapeutic support, in private, which gives the process much greater prospects of success is so manifestly in both her own interests and those of society more widely that it weighs heavily in the parallel analysis of competing rights and interests in which the starting point is ‘presumptive parity’.
  2. In my judgement the need to protect RY’s privacy while she embarks on what I have no doubt will be a difficult and challenging therapeutic process is to recognise an important aspect of her own autonomy and dignity

 

 

That does obviously raise the prospect that in a similar case, where the adopter’s conduct was not as a result of psychological difficulties or there was not a recognition of those difficulties and an intention to seek help, that an adopter who harmed the child could be publicly named in a judgment. There would be reasonable arguments that this would be the right thing to do.

Revocation of adoption order

In this case, Pauffley J had to decide whether to revoke an adoption order that was made in 2004.  That is a very unusual application to hear, and still more unusual to grant.  The only successful applications I’m aware of before this were ones where the adoption order was made before an appeal could be heard and thus the revocation was just to restore the ‘status quo’ so that the appeal could be heard.

 

The major reported case was the one involving the Webster family, where adoption orders were made on the basis of physical injuries and a Court was later persuaded that the injury had been the result of scurvy, itself the result of a failure of a brand of formula milk to have sufficient vitamin C.  The Court there, as a result of the passage of time and public policy issues declined to revoke the adoption orders.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2009/59.html

 

The other notable case involved the young man who had been adopted by a Jewish couple and brought up as a Jew but who learned in later life that his father had been a Kuwaiti muslim and his mother a Catholic  – the adoption meant that he felt he was unwelcome and misplaced in both sets of communities –  he could not live in Israel because of his ethnicity, and was unable to settle in Kuwait because he was officially Jewish.   That case also refused to revoke the adoption order  – rather controversially. Re B (Adoption: Jurisdiction to Set Aside) [1995] Fam 239

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/1995/48.html

 

Thus, you can see that such an application faces a considerable uphill task, when you look at those two cases (where an ordinary member of the public thinking about the facts would have almost certainly revoked both of the orders)

  1. The key passages from each were considered by Bodey J in Re W (Inherent Jurisdiction: Permission Application: Revocation and Adoption Order) [2013] 2 FLR 1609.
  2. I could not improve upon Bodey J’s analysis. He observed it was common ground that “the only possible vehicle for revocation would be the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court … but only in exceptional circumstances.” Bodey J cited a passage from Re B (supra) where Swinton Thomas LJ said this – “To allow considerations such as those put forward in this case to invalidate an otherwise properly made Adoption Order would in my view undermine the whole basis on which Adoption Orders are made, namely that they are final and for life, as regards the adopters, the natural parents and the child. In my judgment, (Counsel) is right when he submits that it will gravely damage the lifelong commitment of adopters to their adoptive children if there is the possibility of the child, or indeed the parents, subsequently challenging the validity of the Order.”
  3. Bodey J also referred to the judgment of Wall LJ (as he then was) in Re Webster v Norfolk County Council) and to the following extract – “Adoption is a statutory process; the law relating to it is very clear. The scope for the exercise of judicial discretion is severely curtailed. Once Orders for Adoption have been lawfully and properly made, it is only in highly exceptional and very particular circumstances that the court will permit them to be set aside.”

 

[There is one reported case called Re M 1991, where the Court did use the inherent jurisdiction to revoke the adoption order, but there’s no link to it, and it is not one that I know at all.   The only links to it are via paysites, but here is a summary I have found of it, via Jonathan Herring in New Law Journal http://www.newlawjournal.co.uk/nlj/content/family-revoking-adoptions

 

 

Wall LJ gave as an example of an exceptional case where an adoption order had been set aside as Re M (Minors) (Adoption) [1991] 1 FLR 458 where two girls had been adopted by their mother and stepfather. The father had consented to the adoption but had not been aware that the mother was suffering from terminal cancer at the time. The wife died soon after, but the stepfather struggled to care for the girls and they returned to their father. The Court of Appeal was willing to set aside the consent order. The primary reason was that the father had consented on the basis of a mistake and that the father would not have consented had he known the truth about his wife’s medical condition.

 

[And a step-parent adoption is a rather different kettle of fish, and the father in that case had consented, but it was a classic issue of him not having been given the accurate state of affairs at the time of that consent]

 

PK v Mr and Mrs K 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2316.html

 

In 2004, PK had been removed from her mother, and placed with adopters, Mr and Mrs K.  However, within 2 years, Mr and Mrs K had placed PK with relatives in Ghana, who went on to considerably mistreat PK.

 

  1. On any view, PK’s childhood has been troubled and disrupted. It might have been thought that when, aged almost four, she became an adopted child her future was assured. Almost certainly, the expectation of the judge who made the adoption order was that PK would enjoy stability, consistency and security as the adopted child of Mr and Mrs K. No professional involved with PK at the time she was adopted could have envisaged that within two years she would be cast out from the home of Mr and Mrs K and sent to live with extended family members in Ghana.
  2. Nor could there have been any indication that whilst in Ghana, PK would be abused by the adults with whom she had been sent to live. Her experience of adoption, particularly the arrangements made for her after the age of six, would seem to have been extremely abusive. She is desperate to draw a line under that part of her life.
  3. When, last year, PK returned to England, she was reunited with her biological mother and maternal grandmother. She is delighted to be back with them.

 

So, should the adoption order be revoked?  There seem to be many positive reasons why it should be. The child has no relationship at all with the adopters, who have (let’s be frank) badly let her down, and is now with her biological family.  But as a matter of law, it is the adopters who have any legal rights about her and not her biological family.  Her biological mother is no longer her mother in law.

 

  1. PK has extremely strong feelings about her legal status. It is very important to her that the court takes account of her wishes and firm views which are that she should no longer be the adopted child of Mr and Mrs K but instead revert to having legal status as a member of her biological family.
  2. PK very much wishes to once more assume the last name of her biological mother to reflect that she is her child and belongs to that family. She urges me to permit her to change her name enabling her to apply for an amended birth certificate and a passport showing that her name is the same as that of her natural mother.
  3. PK remains frightened and wary of Mr and Mrs K. She does not wish them to know precisely where she is living.
  4. There is no potential difficulty, as there was in Re W, Bodey J’s case, arising out of the need to notify PK’s natural parents or for that matter her adoptive parents. In this instance, all of those adults who should be aware of the application have been served. There is no prospective trouble. Mr and Mrs K, by their inaction, have signified their lack of interest in PK’s future. It is probably fair to assume their position is one of tacit acceptance.
  5. PK’s mother and grandmother are thrilled to have her restored within their family. They are committed to providing for her long term future; and fully support her applications.
  6. If I were to decline to revoke the adoption order and refuse to allow PK to change her name back to that of her natural mother, it seems to me that there would be profound disadvantages in terms of her welfare needs. PK would continue to be, in law, the child of Mr and Mrs K. They would have parental responsibility and the legal rights to make decisions about and for her. But there would be considerable, maybe even insuperable, obstacles in the way of them exercising parental responsibility for PK given that they play no part in her life and she wishes to have nothing to do with them.
  7. Moreover, against the background described, there would be emotionally harmful consequences for PK if she were to remain the adopted child of Mr and Mrs K.

 

 

The only counter argument was the “public policy” argument that an adoption order is one that ought to be final and secure and that in revoking orders that principle is undermined and weakened.

 

 

Whilst I altogether accept that public policy considerations ordinarily militate against revoking properly made Adoption orders and rightly so, instances can and do arise where it is appropriate so to do. This case, it seems to me, falls well within the range of “highly exceptional and very particular” such that I can exercise my discretion to make the revocation order sought.

 

 

  1. The only advantage of a refusal of the application to revoke the adoption order would be the public policy considerations in upholding a validly made adoption order.
  2. I am in no doubt. The right course is to allow both applications in these highly exceptional and very particular circumstances and for the reasons given.

 

 

Absolutely the right decision.    [I would also have set aside the adoption order in Re B.  And I would have lost sleep over Webster, but ultimately I think that the passage of time since the orders were made and that the children had made new homes and new lives probably tipped the balance]

 

I don’t think that this is an ‘open the floodgates’ type of case  (though as Jack of Kent points out, the whole point and value of floodgates is that they can open, so it isn’t a bad thing), because the features are just so extraordinary and that informs the entire decision.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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