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Is there an adoption crisis in England and Wales?

The government’s changes to fostering and adoption in 2011 aimed to address issues including the shortage of foster carers, the falling number of annual adoption placements, the length of time a child waits to be adopted, the recruitment and support of foster carers and adopters and the role of local authorities and adoption agencies in the adoption process.  When major changes in adoption law were made in 2011 they resulted in many more children being adopted into new families and a strict timescale of 26 weeks from the commencement of care proceedings to conclusion of the case was put in place, with only exceptional cases falling outside of this timescale. However, a top family judge has criticised the adoption practices and the work of social workers involved in these adoptions.Adoption Orders, placing children outside of the birth family have always been regarded as the most draconian of orders to make. Sir James Munby suggested that social workers were not completing adequate investigations into all other options apart from adoption and said that in his court he regularly saw inadequate practices and arguments in these adoption cases.In the case of Re B (A Child) [2013] and thereafter, in the case of Re B-S (Children) [2013] is was ruled that local authorities must carry out detailed and holistic welfare analysis within their evidence, providing the court with sufficient and detailed information to enable Judges to make a decision whether to make care and placement orders.Re B-S reinforced the need for the courts to consider absolutely every available option for the child or children concerned and the local authorities have since been under pressure to ensure that their evidence complies with these recent cases. Sir James Munby suggested that social workers were not completing adequate investigations into all other options apart from adoption and said that in his court he regularly saw inadequate practices and arguments in these adoption cases.
His comments were made in connection to a case that was going through the Court of Appeal. As a result, there is now real confusion about whether the case, Re B-S, has introduced a new ‘test’ in adoptions.
In the case, the judge said that removing a child from its natural parents and placing it for adoption required the highest standard of evidence.
Adoption figures released recently show that there is a growing number of children being placed into families and being adopted, at just over 5,000 in the course of a year. This means that the number of children being adopted into new families each year has actually risen by over 60 per cent since the adoption reforms in 2011.
Whilst this does seem to be positive news for the children needing adoption, the number of children actually being considered has fallen as a result of Sir James Munby’s ruling in the Re B-S case. In addition, the pre-adoption stage, known as a placement order, has fallen for the first time since 2011. Sir James identified four cases in one month in the Court of Appeal, where he and his fellow judges shared concerns about a lack of analysis and evidence in these adoption cases. He also criticised the 26 week time limit for completion of care proceedings, saying that being rigid in sticking to a timetable in these ‘high stakes’ circumstances was just not rightIn the case of Re B (A Child) [2013] further guidance on the standard of evidence produced by the local authority and the children’s guardian was provided. It was identified by the court that the local authority’s final evidence in this particular case did not include any welfare analysis or balance and that it failed to deal sufficiently with why the child’s adoption outside of the birth family was necessary or required.  Minister for Children, Edward Timpson responded by saying that the Adoption Board would be providing guidance about the judgment to local authorities and reminding them of their responsibilitiesIf you think that you may be affected by the judge’s ruling and you are not sure how to proceed, give us a call on 01302 320621. We are family lawyers and can give you the advice you need at this sensitive time.

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