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Is the adoption system affected by recent court cases?

(37 Posts)
greengoose Tue 04-Nov-14 17:02:04

Hi, I've been on MN for years, but don't post often anymore... I was hoping some of the experts from this thread might be able to help me?
We are at the very early stages of gearing up to apply to adopt when my youngest BC is a year (or two) older. Both myself and my partner have a fair bit of experience, having worked therapeutically with kids of different ages, and worked in the public and private LAC systems in various ways. We have three BC, our oldest having mild Aspergers. We have also gone through loosing our daughter two years ago. We always planned to adopt or foster eventually, and nothing has changed this through the years.
I am getting to the point and my question, honestly....
Recently we were in a situation where we learned a lot more about babies going through drug withdrawal, and how hard they can be to place, due to uncertainty about their future. We feel we might be able to consider this sort of little one. We know people professionally who work for LAs and private adoption agencies, and we are probably able to be considered for this in a year or so.
My question is this: word seems to be coming from SS that babies are going to be an av. of three by the time they are placed from now on due to two court cases that have recently informed the way courts view adoption orders for young babies, and how long it takes to decide to 'give up' on the chance they can return to birth family. The manager I spoke to today said that this will knock concurrent planning on the head too, as no adoptive parent would wait that long. She admitted this directly contradicts the government targets, and hoped there would be some clarity within the year, but said for now everything is completely up in the air, with courts taking their own view. The result is babies will wait far longer to be adopted.
Has anyone heard about this? I am angry on behalf of these little ones, and don't really know what to believe, but we have heard the same from LAs and agencies, so there must be something in it?

Lilka Tue 04-Nov-14 17:41:37

Yes there have been a couple of cases which have affected placement orders. Re B-S is the big one, and you can read it here

This is my understanding of it, BUT the person you really need to explain it all is Spero (our resident family law barrister ie. expert). She could tell you about any other important recent cases, and how it's impacting and everything else as well! Hopefully she'll be along soon. And correct anything I've said if it isn't right (please!).

I think this sentence from the beginning of the judgement basically sums up what the Judges felt was wrong - "We have real concerns, shared by other judges, about the recurrent inadequacy of the analysis and reasoning put forward in support of the case for adoption, both in the materials put before the court by local authorities and guardians and also in too many judgments. This is nothing new. But it is time to call a halt."

Basically, the high court said it's fed up with courts being presented with poor reasoning, poor arguments, and Judges making poorly reasoned judgements etc. So it set out very clear guidelines for what is and isn't acceptable. The court (I think) also said that cases should be pushed back beyond the government 26 week time limit if the LA aren't presenting a good enough case for a PO (or other option).

IMHO, in many ways the ruling is a good thing, because poor paperwork, and shodddy reasoning could lead to wrong decisions being made

But it is affecting PO's and length of cases though. I know PO's are down on last year (I think 9%?)

I am hearing from approved adopters and adopters going through the process that they are being warned that there are less children available because of the reduction and they may wait longer to find a match, and (anecdotally) it does seem to be taking longer for some people. Although matching has always been a case of 'how long is a piece of string'

IMHO it's very difficult to find a balance. Poor paperwork and reasoning can lead to wrong decisions being made. It's not acceptable to sacrifice good practice for speed. But cases also need to be decided quick enough for the childrens sake, so they aren't waiting in care for several years.

Here are some links explaining the impact of the case -
www.lawsociety.org.uk/communities/family-section/articles/spotlight-re-bs

www.childprotectionresource.org.uk/when-can-the-court-agree-adoption-is-necessary/ The bit about Re B-S is near the bottom

Spero Tue 04-Nov-14 18:48:18

The average age of a child being adopted last year was 3 years 8 months and I had understood the recent and quite massive push from the Gov to increase the number of adoptions was aiming to get that figure right down.

It will indeed be an unhappy example of the law of unintended consequences if all the recent reforms actually make it harder to get a child adopted.

Its difficult to advise with any certainty because it is still all quite new - Re B-S really set the cat amongst the pigeons and that was just last year.

As I understand it, there is a pretty big tension between the government aims to increase numbers of children who are adopted and to speed up the process and what is being demanded in Re B-S - that adoptions will only be allowed after exhaustive, holistic analysis of every available option, LAs will have to investigate what support is available to keep the family together.

The dream is that the LA will put a lot more effort into the pre-proceedings stage so that when cases get to court they will whizz through. I think this is a pipe dream, its often difficult to get parents to engage until it goes to court as they don't realise how serious it is.

Sorry I can't be more helpful. As ever, its trying to juggle two often incompatible aims - protect children and find them new homes whilst at the same time not remove them from families if there is any chance they can stay. I am sure some LAs will be doing a much better job than others.

greengoose Tue 04-Nov-14 21:42:17

Wow, thankyou both for such informative answers! You have both confirmed what I have been hearing, Lilka, I agree that it can only be good if SWs are doing their job better and less mistakes are made but, as both of you have said, it would be such a shame if this means children are stuck in the care system for potentially years longer....
I will go and read up on the case law and the links you have posted, thankyou!
As for us, we will enjoy our children and look forward to perhaps growing our family in a couple of years. I will follow these threads and learn from you as you seem like a lovely and well informed lot!
I hate systems not working, and really feel for both the children and adopters whose life this will affect, but hopefully the systems that emerge will work better and be safer.....I'll wait and see!

Spero Tue 04-Nov-14 22:15:57

Doing some late night internet noodling and now I regret it... because wouldn't you know, now it seems the Court of Appeal wants to back track from the Re B-S position of adoption as the last resort, when nothing else will do...
suesspiciousminds.com/2014/11/04/why-is-there-something-instead-of-nothing/

Italiangreyhound Tue 04-Nov-14 22:45:20

Greengoose, you said We have also gone through loosing our daughter two years ago.

I am so sorry to hear of your loss.

Whatever you decide about adoption, all the best for the future.

greengoose Tue 04-Nov-14 22:45:29

I get the sense things are in a bit of a mess....

greengoose Tue 04-Nov-14 22:51:34

Cross posted somehow Italian!
Thank you, it's been and will always be a different world and a different me since we said goodbye to Merryn. We have three boys who are amazing, and we are ok. Sounds wrong to say it, but we are. Different, but ok. (Maybe a bit mad to still be hoping to adopt, it sounds like it might be a bumpy road)!

Spero Tue 04-Nov-14 22:54:52

Its because no one in government can be honest. Sorry to sound so cynical but I am getting fed up with this constant round of mixed messages about what we are all supposed to be doing.

We have to try to keep families together, that's the law. And that's right. But we don't have access to the support and services some of them need to actually make it work.

We always get this mess in the case law when they try to dress up expediency as legal principle. It always unravels, because its not based on any reality.

Don't tell me to analyse 'every realistic option' for a child because in reality there is almost always only one. If parents could access therapy easily, there might be more options.

Lilka Tue 04-Nov-14 22:58:25

I think it's largely a mess because the timing of these court Judgements has coincided rather badly with the governments adoption drive, and the government and the courts take different views on these matters! So you have the government insisting on something, then the courts putting the brakes on, and then revising what they've said previously....and all the while, as social services try and adapt with limited resources to these constant new governmental demands or court Judgements, adopters are getting more and more confused about the conflicting messages they keep hearing, understandably. Most prospective adopters know little about adoption related law anyway, knowledge might extend to knowing that adoption cuts legal ties with BF, and knowing that a Placement Order lets a child be placed with adopters and not a lot more. That's why we get threads all the time asking eg. are BF allowed to contest the adoption and what happens if BF contest the adoption (which is the LA's failing, because they should explain this) etc etc. You have to teach yourself if you want to know anything. And you hear one thing from one source, then another from the government, then your adopter friend says this...

All the best with your children and however/if you choose to grow your family next smile

If you are interested in court judgements (I find them very interesting, as long as I can basically follow what's going on which I don't always grin ) and how adoption/care law works now, there are lots of them in the public domain on Bailii (www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCC/Fam/) and Family Law Week (www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=fo6). I've definitely learnt an enormous amount by reading judgements and analysis on places like suspicious minds.

Lilka Tue 04-Nov-14 23:05:36

And I do think the government are at fault
There are a couple of individuals within politics who are committed to trying to do things better for children but still reasonably, and who actually care a great deal about children in care...but overall, the party in power are all about looking good on newspaper headlines, saying things that sound great in theory but are badly thought out in reality....we all know how it works, it works like this in most areas of government!! But adoption/LAC is a particularly difficult area to start fiddling with, not to mention having the most enormous impact on the most vulnerable in society

Also, these soundbites mean nothing for struggling adoptees, adopters, and birth parents who need more post adoption support (sorry for sidetracking there, but it has to be said)

Italiangreyhound Tue 04-Nov-14 23:22:34

Merryn is a lovely name. If these complications continue might you consider a slightly older child. Our ds was three when he came and he is a totally adorable cherub. (Biased!)

Hope things sort out with adoption generally, I am afraid it is all a bit over my head. I am horrified anyone could think it is better for children to stay with parents who abuse or neglect them. There must be a line, a 'good enough parenting' line and once people go over that line, by however is deemed 'too far' then surely those kids need to be cared for elsewhere. I know it is not that simple. I know for older kids it gets very, very complicated but for very young kids and babies, for me, it is a no brainer. no one has a right to have a baby and keep that baby in their care if they cannot care for that baby within a reasonable time frame. But wiser people know a lot more than me and I am a relative newbie. Ds has been home 6 months.

For ds, despite being a bit older than many he is pretty much a normal little lad.

DS was pretty much the standard age! Which I understand to mean that lots of babies and a bit older kids do get adopted so the average age means the combination of the higher and lower ages and then divided by the number of kids - is that right Lilka? Anyway, Ds was close to that age anyway!

greengoose Tue 04-Nov-14 23:34:41

Your son sounds lovely, and you sound like you are very happy Italian... Until v recently we always assumed we would wait to adopt an older child, but then we came close to a situation where a young baby was needing special guardianship. In the end we couldn't help, but it got us thinking and moved things on for us more quickly than we planned (it's all a bit complicated and not something I can really discuss here)... We may well need to go back to our original plan to adopt an older child, and that's ok, but I would like to just do away with the stress and uncertainty of the process. A process which is apparently becoming more complex by minute, if I can understand any of the links to articles being posted!

Lilka Tue 04-Nov-14 23:35:37

I don't know how exactly they calculate the average age Italian

But I do know that the average age at adoption in the last year was 3 years 5 months (it was 3 years 8 months like Spero said a year or so before that, but it's fallen again)

However, it's important to remember that this is age at finalisation, not placement. So if 3 years 5 months is average age at finalisation, we have to lower the age further by some months to get a more accurate picture of age at placement.

Over 2 months before you can even apply for an adoption order...several more months to get to court...it's going to be 5+ months before you can get an adoption order in the average case

The average age at placements is going to be 2 years and something, say, betwen 2 years 7 months - 2 years 11 months IMVH-and-rubbish-at-maths-O??

Lilka Tue 04-Nov-14 23:43:52

I agree that Merryn is a beautiful name smile

Unfortunately though, adoption is by it's very nature, a stressful and uncertain process. I absolutely agree with you that hearing these mixed messages does not help a bit...but adoption by it's very nature is full of uncertainties, and the process of approval, matching and then getting an adoption order is very stressful and emotionally demanding.

IME, you just end up gritting your teeth, focus on the end goal and keep ploughing through (and try and deal with your inevitable and natural worries and wobbles as they come up). I adopted 2 older (much older!) children, and I have never regretted it. More than happy to talk about about older child adoption whenever smile

Italiangreyhound Tue 04-Nov-14 23:48:12

Spero am I right about the average age. I though that was what average meant and that is I think what social workers told us originally. In that we originally thought we would adopt a 3 year old, told social workers that we had seen the average age was 3 (thinking it meant most children were 3) and was then told no it was the kind of sum of the ages. I guess I am just saying this to say that there are now (at the moment) quite a few babies who are going through system. Is that right Spero, we were told when we first started this process a long time ago there were no babies but we found there were a lot of toddlers in the system.

chemistry.about.com/od/workedchemistryproblems/a/calculate-the-mean.htm

Just curious, none of this relates to OP! Apologies.

greengoose Tue 04-Nov-14 23:52:57

Oh I know it'll be a roller coaster, I think with a younger child we were hoping to get on, and therefore off, the first part of the ride sooner! If we consider an older child we will have to wait longer for the age gap to widen sufficiently.
I know (hope) we are up to it, (we have been tested hugely over the last few years), but I do sometimes wish I could at least see our road ahead...that's all!

greengoose Wed 05-Nov-14 00:00:36

Italian, I was told today by an agency manager that there have been more babies in the system over the last year in particular, due to the gov drive for quicker adoptive placements, but that they are expecting (and seeing now) the av age rising significantly. This is explained somewhat by the articles linked above. She said they would expect things to find a new balance over the next year, as more cases are brought and appealed.

Italiangreyhound Wed 05-Nov-14 00:08:48

Yes, totally agree with Lilka, when she says Unfortunately though, adoption is by it's very nature, a stressful and uncertain process.

Yes greengoose things will probably go up and down in terms of age. Actually, when we found our little lad age ceased to matter but our dd is 10 so there is a big age gap already.

To be honest in some funny way, it is all little steps and little stages, well it was for us. So in a very funny way (maybe especially as we already had a birth child and were already a family) the stress seemed manageable.

For us, we got a description, then a picture, or vice versa, you hear stuff, meet people (foster cares etc) and then one magical day you find yourself sitting opposite a little angel who is chatting away (a bit nervously) and you are thinking 'this is my son!' but still it is small steps!

They go out with you and do activities and they come to live with you and for some inexplicable reason I was able to see this as 'my son, our son' and as someone 'who I will love forever etc etc' alongside 'there is a chance this will not all get finalised'. It is weird.

Good luck greengoose whatever happens enjoy your three lovely lads.

Spero Wed 05-Nov-14 08:14:58

Merryn is a beautiful name - like something from an Arthurian legend...

Greyhound, here are some stats from the forced adoption post.
We have found the following statistics.

The article ‘Adoption Targets Row; the Sector Responds’ from 2007 in Community Care gives the following figures:

2,490 under-fives in care were adopted in 2006, up from 1,010 in 1995.
4,160 under-fives were first taken into care in 2006, up from 2,870 in 1995.
1,300 babies aged younger than a month when they were taken into care were adopted in 2006, up from 540 in 1995.
The average age at adoption in 2006 was four years and one month.
3,700 children were adopted from care in 2006, up from 2,700 in 2000.
So we can see there has been an increase in children being taken into care and being adopted over time from a low starting point, but that the average age for adoption in 2006 was over 4 years old. So 4 years after Hemming argues that babies are being targeted, this does not appear to be reflected in the average age on adoption.

Compare this with statistics from 2013

6% (4,310) of children looked after on 31st March 2013 were under 1 year old
18% (12,360) were aged between 1 and 4 years old
19% (13,260) were aged between 5 and 9 years old
36% (24,450) were aged between 10 and 15 years old
20% (13,730) were aged 16 and over

The average age at adoption in the year ending 31st March 2013 was 3 years 8 months

2% (90) of children adopted during the year ending 31st March 2013 were under 1 year old
74% (2,960) were aged between 1 and 4 years old
21% (850) were aged between 5 and 9 years old
2% (70) were aged between 10 and 15 years old
<1% (10) were aged 16 and over

I don't know if that helps at all!

Spero Tue 11-Nov-14 08:03:33

Just heard a very interesting interview with Sir Martin Narey on the Today programme and found this article he has written for Community Care.
www.communitycare.co.uk/2014/11/11/risk-reversing-substantial-progress-damaging-life-long-outcomes-children/

Looks like the pressure is really on for the courts to 'row back' substantially from the position of Re B-S that adoption is the 'last resort' as this seems to have halved the numbers of children the LA are putting up for adoption.

Lilka Tue 11-Nov-14 08:29:24

I was just coming to post that Spero grin

The press are picking up on it too - www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/pa/article-2829402/Adoption-figures-nearly-halved.html

Lilka Tue 11-Nov-14 09:16:44

This is the guidance document itself - www.slideshare.net/martinnarey/alb-impact-of-court-judgments-on-adoption-november-2014-1-1

Spero Tue 11-Nov-14 13:19:27

Great minds! I was just going to post that.

You might be interested in this Twitter exchange some of us had with him this morning... he's going to have another think.
https://storify.com/SVPhillimore/the-myth-about-the-myth-26-weeks-and-its-relevance

Jameme Tue 11-Nov-14 13:28:23

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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