Long way to go, of course, but this lays out what the Goverment would hope to do with the new law.
Click to access 17001.pdf
The thing that most of us are interested in are the proposed reforms to adoption law. So here they are:-
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
(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
(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
(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
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
(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
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.
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
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.